Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

States Seek to Jam Prison Cellphone Signals:

Cellphones have been used in other state prisons and local jails to carry out extortion schemes, tax evasion plots, drug deals, credit card fraud, prison riots and escapes. Often prepaid, untraceable cellphones are smuggled into prisons with the assistance of guards or visitors, or are thrown over prison fences. Once the cellphone is inside, prisoners hide it among their belongings and often share it for a price.

California corrections officials reported confiscating 2,809 cellphones in 2008. Mississippi officials found 1,861, and federal prison officials found 1,623.

In 2008, Richard Tabler, a death row inmate in Texas, called State Senator John Whitmire directly on his cellphone. Mr. Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, is chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee.

“He wanted to talk about conditions on death row,” Mr. Whitmire said. “In my mind, I thought I was talking to a concerned guard. I said, ‘Where are you?’ And he said: ‘I’m on death row. I’m an inmate. I’m on a cellphone I bought for $2,100.’ ”
While I agree this is a problem that needs to be addressed, I think "jamming the signals" around a prison is not the way to go. As the telecommunications industry argues, it opens a slippery slope of governmental interference with communication that, once broken, can lead to all kinds of abuses (pity the poor people living near a prison, for example).

The best way to handle it is to increase penalties for both cellphone use by inmates and for those caught smuggling them into prison. Keep in mind that most contraband smuggled into prison is done by staff, often under duress. A good way to stop it would be to start paying correctional officers more money, thereby devaluing the worth of contraband smuggling.

In other corrections news, we got word today where Bernie Madoff is going. As predicted here, Madoff is on his way to a minimum/medium security complex of federal prisons in Butner, North Carolina.
Convicted swindler Bernard Madoff was transferred Monday to a federal prison in Butner, N.C., where he will serve his 150-year sentence.

Butner includes two medium-security prisons, a low-security prison, medical facility and satellite prison camp for minimum-security male inmates.

Inmates at Butner include Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas and his son Timothy, both found guilty in 2004 of securities fraud. The Rigases are being held in the low-security prison, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Former Rite Aid Corp. Vice Chairman Franklin C. Brown is serving his 10-year sentence in a medium-security facility at Butner. Mr. Madoff also could be imprisoned with Al Parish, a former economist at Charleston Southern University who pleaded guilty in 2007 to running what prosecutors alleged was a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $66 million.

Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall when Madoff and Parish meet? Parish: "Bernie! How'd you do it on that scale!?" Madoff: "Putz. You only got $66 million from your scheme? Don't waste my time."

As I opined earlier, while it's nice to know Madoff won't be going anywhere for the next 150 years, the scores and scores of criminals still running loose in our nation's banking and financial system, who appear to have "gotten away with it," will never be brought to justice. Worse, they still work in the very system they received government bailouts for, fleecing taxpayers to make up for it, and racking up billion dollar profits yet again. Madoff is a symbol of the times, but he's nothing more than a poster boy in the grand scheme of financial ruin that has swept through the country.

Have fun in Butner, Bernie. Go Panthers!

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