Cell phones for inmates: NJ officials curb the smuggling
It used to be that when gang kingpins were sent to prison in New Jersey they could still run their operations by using a smuggled cell phone to direct many types of criminal activity, however, that is no longer the case thanks to recent practices undertaken by the state Department of Corrections (DOC).
During a comprehensive review a few years ago, a special task force discovered that most cell phones were being smuggled into minimum security lockups. From there, inmates were able to pass them along to prisoners at maximum security facilities, according to DOC Deputy Commissioner Mark Farsi.
As a result of the findings, a security upgrade was ordered at the state's minimum security facilities in an effort to crackdown on smuggled cell phone activity. Some of the improvements made, according to Farsi, included different fencing and new lighting.
"We went to 100 percent compliance for all staff members entering the facility. Everyone from the commissioner on down entering the facility gets pat-frisked," Farsi said.
In addition, the DOC increased the number of K-9 searches.
"We changed our K9 searches from five days a week, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., to seven days a week around the clock. Nine of the department's 24 K-9 dogs focus exclusively on sniffing out cell phones and tobacco," Farsi.
The department has also focused on changing its search patterns, and allowing for more input from correctional officers and support staff.
"We've allowed the staff to report better. We've put up notification signs - in other words if you see something, say something." Farsi said. "We've educated the uniform staff and the non-uniform staff to understand how important it is for cell phones to not get into our facilities."
The DOC said smuggled cell phones can be deadly in New Jersey's prisons.
"It's just as serious as a weapon coming into the facility. That cell phone can be utilized by gang members. That cell phone can be used to intimidate witnesses," Farsi said.
Fifty smuggled cell phones were confiscated in 2014, down from 73 in 2013. Before security upgrades were put in place, Farsi said that number used to average at least 300 a year.
"New Jersey has become a model for this. Other states have sent correctional department officials to review what we're doing here in the Garden State," Farsi said.