Friday, January 07, 2011

'Putting iPhones behind bars"

"Putting iPhones behind bars," is the clever title given to an email exchange, to be published Sunday in the Dallas News in their "Point Person" feature, between myself and editorial writer Michael Landauer. He wanted to follow up regarding my (absurd?) proffer from this post Monday to allow inmates limited, monitored access to smartphones in prison, which I suggested would promote productive ties to family and good behavior while stemming unauthorized use and contraband smuggling. 

See what you think. Thanks to Michael and the News for putting the idea, which was really a knockoff suggestion reacting to this New York Times article, in front of a lot more readers than would ever see it on Grits.

UPDATE: A commenter points out, "How about starting with letting inmates make outgoing calls to cellphones? Right now they can only call landlines which eliminates many friends and family." That's an excellent point! Given that the number and identity must be disclosed (and are presumably verifiable) on the "approved visitor" list, I don't understand why TDCJ doesn't allow that. It could be dealt with at the agency rule or policy level, or the Lege could require them to do it, but that's something that needs to be fixed.

11 comments:

Zeety said...

I can see it now; an app to file your next habeas corpus brief that incorporates a nice little .gif of Sharon Keller "banging" her gavel. Yea, that could work.

Anonymous said...

Your 15 minutes of fame, eh Grits? You're now the Perez Hilton of criminal justice bloggers. I say this with affection.

Anonymous said...

How about starting with letting inmates make outgoing calls to cellphones? Right now they can only call landlines which eliminates many friends and family.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that reasonable access to phones at reasonable prices would be a reasonable solution. But who wants to be reasonable?

Charles in Tulia

sunray's wench said...

Good responses to the usual banal questions Scott, but I have to kind of agree with the second commenter there, who is going to pay for it all?

I know you suggested that the families could pay, but don't we pay enough already directly and indirectly? It's not just the phones themselves, but the monitoring that you agree would be needed. TDCJ have been cutting staff costs, not increasing them.

As a family member, I would prefer TDCJ to install the technology to block cell phones within the prisons. If a COs needs to make a call, then they can just drive a little way from the parking lot to do so. Most TDCJ units are in the middle of nowhere, so the blocking technology would not affect any residents or emergency services.

Much better to do that, and to increase the availability for inmates to use the new phone system already in place. The Legislators seriously overestimated the number of inmates who actually have someone on the outside to call (and fund the calls), and of those inmate friends and families who have a landline that can be registered with the new system. Increase the coverage, permit pre-paid overseas calls, monitor and record everything, and then the existing system might actually make enough money to cover the installation and running costs.

Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner said...

TDCJ's current phone policy is a masquerade that only feeds the black market for cell phones. The whole purpose of giving prisoners access to phone calls is to encourage family ties. At the moment in TX, prisoners are only allowed to call the 10 people approved on their visitors' list. How practical is that? What about family members who live too far or are too old to visit? Furthermore, the restriction that forbids death row prisoners from having access to the phone program is disgusting. The death row population is not housed in ad seg for any kind of disciplinary reason, but merely because of the nature of their sentence. If the legislators actually wake up to realize and accept that the purpose of any prison system isn't to be purely punitive but has to be primarily restorative, maybe things will change for real. Until then, TDC's phone policy is just another lie to the public, a strenuous costs for the prisoners' families, an absolute misconception of what prison life could be. There are safe tools to improve conditions while maintaining safety and keep a prison population under control. It is not about to happen anytime soon with such a medieval culture of punishment and torture.

sunray's wench said...

Good responses to the usual banal questions Scott, but I have to kind of agree with the second commenter there, who is going to pay for it all?

I know you suggested that the families could pay, but don't we pay enough already directly and indirectly? It's not just the phones themselves, but the monitoring that you agree would be needed. TDCJ have been cutting staff costs, not increasing them.

As a family member, I would prefer TDCJ to install the technology to block cell phones within the prisons. If a COs needs to make a call, then they can just drive a little way from the parking lot to do so. Most TDCJ units are in the middle of nowhere, so the blocking technology would not affect any residents or emergency services.

Much better to do that, and to increase the availability for inmates to use the new phone system already in place. The Legislators seriously overestimated the number of inmates who actually have someone on the outside to call (and fund the calls), and of those inmate friends and families who have a landline that can be registered with the new system. Increase the coverage, permit pre-paid overseas calls, monitor and record everything, and then the existing system might actually make enough money to cover the installation and running costs.

Hoof said...

I as a taxpayer cannot support the notion of buying inmates cell phones. I agree that quite a few guards would go broke. But an inmate doesn't need a cell phone to communicate outside. If a guard can get an inmate an illicit cell phone, the guard can just as easily take handwritten letters out. So the issue is really allowing inmates to communicate to the outside in real time at their leisure. Let's throw in some hot wings and cable TV with all the pay channels while we're at it. Maybe they won't want to leave thereby nullifying reform.

Anonymous said...

There is no reform in TDCJ. No, I stand corrected. There is reform, but it is not always good.

everyone has a story said...

Does anyone know or have a idea how many phone min. are being sold per month on average and where the money is going ?? Would it be hard too find that info. or would I have to go to wikileak to get that info.

R. Shackleford said...

Even if some folks in the crowbar motel got 'free' cell phones, you'd still have a thriving black market cell phone trade. Drugs, phones, hooch and immunity are what grease the wheels of any prison. As long as you have corrupt guards, you'll have a robust prison economy just simply booming. And you'll ALWAYS have corrupt guards.