In 2019, living without your cell phone seems impossible. Most of us can’t go an entire day without texting, checking social media, or asking Google an important question like: What movies are coming out during Marvel phase four?
But, when you are in prison, life is all about taking away your freedom and cutting you off from the outside world. They want to make it as difficult as possible for you to communicate with anyone outside of prison walls. So, today, I’m going to answer the question: can you have phones in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
It should come as no surprise that inmates are not allowed to have cell phones, but they do make their way into prisons and jails all across the country. Cell phones are one of the most-smuggled items into prisons, and it usually happens via prison guards or other prison staff.
There are security measures in place when prison staff enters a facility, but the process isn’t as invasive as what you have to go through when you are a visitor. As a result, it is much easier for a member of the prison staff to get cell phones inside compared to a visitor.
It is also very lucrative because inmates will pay a lot of money for a phone and a chargerㅡsometimes up to $1,000. This is touched on in episodes of Orange Is The New Black, as phones can be just as profitable as drugs. Since cell phones aren’t illegal like drugs, many people who work in prisons aren’t necessarily opposed to the idea.
However, many states and jurisdictions are starting to pass laws about bringing electronics into correctional facilities, and if you get caught, you can face criminal charges. But, I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
In some prisons, cell phones can simply be tossed over the fence by a friend or family member, and the inmate just has to set up the time and location so they can grab it.
As for where inmates hide cell phones, there are places all over the prison that you can stash a cell phone. Something like that you really don’t want to keep in your cell or room because the officers can easily put the blame on you if it is found. However, if it is found outside of your cell, it’s much more difficult to pin it on one inmate (if they are smart enough to erase their call history and browser history).
Inmates can hide them in the laundry room, on their work site, at the rec yard, and in the bathroom. It has to be some place where you can grab it and use it without anyone seeing you. Some inmates might keep it on them, if they know they aren’t going to have to deal with a strip search. But, that can be risky because you never really know when something like that will happen.
You have to be creative, but there are plenty of places to hide your phone.
Inmates do have access to landline pay phones during daytime hours, but the specific hours vary based on the facility. Where I was incarcerated, we could use the phone anytime between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. except during count times.
However, the lines were often very long, and you might have to wait hours for the chance to talk to a loved one for 15 minutes.
If an inmate is in administrative segregation (the hole, the SHU), they don’t have access to phones at all. Inmates who are in maximum security and locked down for 23 hours a day might only get access to a phone once a week. Really, exactly when inmates can make phone calls depends on the facility they are locked up in.
The biggest reason cell phones are such big business in prisons is because the cost of inmate phone calls are insane. The calls should cost just pennies, but companies like JPayㅡwho have the majority of the prison communication businessㅡcharge way more than that. Sometimes a short phone call can cost as much as ten bucks, but again it depends on the facility.
“If my wife, child, or a close friend were ill, I would blow the month’s phone budget,” a former inmate told the Broward Palm Beach New Times.
Because of the long lines at most prison phones, JPay has now introduced tablets that family members and friends can purchase for their incarcerated loved ones at some facilities. This allows them to send and receive emails, as well as download music, games, and movies. But, it comes with a hefty price.
There is no internet access on these tablets, but some do allow inmates to make phone calls or have video visits. While it’s nice for inmates to have access to this new item so they don’t have to sit in a long phone line, it is incredibly expensive. JPay has found a creative way to increase revenue so multiple prisoners can use their products and services all at once.
If you are an inmate, getting caught with a cell phone will usually mean going to the hole. And, it could also mean more charges and getting your sentence extended. If you are someone who is caught trying to bring a cell phone into a facility, you will lose your job, and you could also be facing criminal charges.
Many states and jurisdictions have started to pass laws making it illegal to bring in electronic devices onto prison grounds or into a jail. So, just because the item itself is illegal, taking it into a prison can get you into some serious trouble.
Do you think companies like JPay are taking advantage of prisoners and their families? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Mobile phones in prison https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_in_prison Cell phones in prison: A former inmate explains the real deal https://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/cell-phones-in-prison-a-former-inmate-explains-the-real-deal-6459092
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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