Wrong cells in jails

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

With law enforcement officials concerned that cell phones are in the hands of too many inmates and prisoners, they are turning to Montgomery for help with the problem.

“There is some legislation this year that would further criminalize the possession of a cell phone in prison,” said DOC spokesman Brian Corbett.

Currently two bills have been presented to the Alabama House of Representatives addressing the issue of cell phones and social media in prisons. House Bill 406, sponsored by Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, aims to increase penalties for anyone caught even attempting to smuggle contraband into an Alabama DOC facility.

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A second House bill, HB258, has been presented by Rep. Phil Williams, R-Monrovia, and is intended to make it a misdemeanor for any prisoner to use social media and for anyone from the outside to help them do so.

Williams has said a catalyst for his bill was the story of a family of a murder victim being contacted via Facebook by their loved one’s convicted killer — even though he was in prison.

Baker said the motivation for his bill addressing contraband sprang from complaints he has heard from DOC and law enforcement officials.

“The bill was initiated because of the fact that my home, Escambia County, has two prisons,” Baker said. “The district attorney brought to my attention some problems their office has had with trying to prosecute contraband crimes. That was really the genesis of this particular bill.”

Baker said the most important aspect of the bill is that it will criminalize an attempt to smuggle contraband into prisons to the same extent as actually being caught with unauthorized items.

“It makes the attempt to smuggle in contraband the same as the crime itself,” Baker said. “The attempt will be the same on all three levels of contraband. First-degree contraband primarily refers to weapons or a tool useful for escape and that could include a cell phone. This particular bill will escalate the first degree to a higher level. It would apply to the inmate or those who attempt to introduce contraband.”

Baker said his bill would be introduced on the house floor Tuesday.

For now, Corbett said DOC officials will continue to crack down on the problem through traditional methods and will diligently work to keep phones out of the reach of inmates.

“They are against the rules, and they are against the rules for very valid security reasons,” Corbett said.