CLEVELAND — Ohio corrections officials are finding that cellphones are increasingly popular contraband items for prison inmates.
The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported today that state prison records show corrections officers have seized 319 cellphones in the year’s first seven months. That compares to 340 for all of last year, and is a jump from 126 seized in 2010.
New and smaller kinds of cellphones are making it easier for them to be smuggled into and hidden in prison. Experts say inmates can use cellphones to plan escapes, assaults or smuggling activities. They can also use them run crime operations from inside the prison, and use cellphones to videotape.
“No good can come from inmates having cellphones,” said Richard Lichten, a law enforcement consultant in Los Angeles. “It is a huge security issue.”
“They are so very small and compact, but they’re a powerful tool in the hands of a prisoner,” said Vinko Kucinic, security threat investigator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
Ohio corrections officials have begun using cellphone detectors that can track phone use. Kucinic said they also have increased training of guards on looking for cellphones, and also are using search dogs.
Experts say cellphones have high value on the prison black market, with relatively cheap phones on the outside going for hundreds of dollars inside.
“The use of inexpensive, disposable cellphones has changed the age-old, cat-and-mouse game of controlling whom inmates communicate with in the outside world and is creating serious problems for public safety officials,” a National Institute of Justice report stated earlier this year.
Ohio prison statistics indicate weapons and drugs and alcohol are still common sources for contraband seizures.
Drugs and alcohol seizures dropped 11 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, but are on the rebound this year with 1,165 seizures so far this year.
Weapons also dropped in 2012, from 1,126 in 2011 to 1,034 last year. There were 580 weapons taken in the first seven months of this year.