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Chicken-Fried News: Hold the phone

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INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby

Countless hands have been wrung raw over the negative influence the ever-present cellphone has on modern life, but Oklahoma Department of Corrections is worrying about them more than the Momo challenge. Earlier this month, The Oklahoman reported that the department has confiscated nearly 1,800 contraband phones from inmates since the beginning of the year and more than 48,500 since 2011, and according to department representatives, prisoners are not using them to play Pokémon Go.

“It is the cornerstone of communication to the outside, where gangs run their criminal enterprises,” corrections director Joe M. Allbaugh told The Oklahoman, adding that “shot-callers” heading the more than 100 gangs known to operate in Oklahoma prisons can use contraband phones to “call out hits” and “threaten families.”

To decisively to take away inmates’ screentime privileges, corrections department officials say they need the federal government to allow them to jam cellphone signals inside the prison, a measure that is currently illegal without permission from Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which warns that jamming can interfere with law enforcement communications by diluting radio signals and preventing emergency calls. Critics such as Ben Levitan, who serves as an expert witness in telecommunications cases, said allowing prisons to jam phone signals is a “very slippery slope.”

“Once that door is opened, we can never turn back,” Levitan told Vice last year.

Officials say phones are smuggled into prison by staff, thrown over the walls by outside accomplices to be collected later, and even delivered by drones. Others, which The Oklahoman reported are “marked as hazardous” after confiscation “because the inmates hid them on their bodies or stored them in unsanitary places,” are presumably snuck in through good old-fashioned keistering. It’s nice to see that, even in the digital age, some things never change.

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