There has been a lot of press on the issue of cell phones in prison lately, particularly since Charles Manson has been caught with a couple, and the problem is rampant in Texas institutions.
The legislators and prison personnel are ignoring a simple solution to drastically reduce the problem, mainly because they are more interested in punishing the people who get caught with them than they are in preventing access in the first place.
I'll discuss the solution a little later, but many people are curious as to how the phones get into the prisons in the first place.
According to the people who would know best, prisoners, very few are brought in by people visiting. This is because of the searches that take place of both the visitors and prisoners. Prisoners are strip searched after all visits, including the ones that only occur over the telephones so realistically this is not an effective way to get something as large as a cell phone into an institution.
Instead, in most prisons the cell phones are brought in by guards who buy the phones for $30-50 dollars on the outside and then sell them to the prisoners for $300-$1000 each. The money is usually provided by a family or gang member on the outside and paid to the guard in case or by wire transfer. Minutes are then purchased for the telephone on a monthly basis.
In some facilities, such as the CCA operated Mineral Wells Pre Parole Transfer Facility it is even simpler, since the phones are thrown over the fence in the weekly drops that include phones, drugs and cigarettes. These drops generate huge amounts of revenue for the gangs.
Cell phones are a huge business, unlimited minutes being purchased each month and then calls on the phones being sold to the other inmates for $2-5 dollars for a 15-30 minute call. Pay is usually in the form of soups or other commissary items which the phone owner can then use or sell themselves, again often having people on the outside deposit money in their account for the items. Last I heard you could get $125-150 worth of commissary for $100 deposited in an outside account.
Leaving aside the risks associated with owning a phone, the prisoners who use these cell phones to call home also take a tremendous risk. If you are caught with a cell phone inside a prison you not only lose all "good time" credits and lengthen your stay but you also will catch a separate, felony charge which I understand is not only tacked onto the end of the sentence being served (aka run consecutive) it is also treated as a 3G offense by the parole board which means you aren't really even eligible for parole until half of that sentence is served. However, many men are so far removed from home and contact with their families they are willing to take the risk for a few minutes of a friendly voice.
One reason for the proliferation of the cell phones is the tendency of TDCJ to move prisoners so far from home that visits are impossible and also an attempt to turn a profit on the phone calls home, charging up to $1 a minute, minimum 15 minutes, plus a connection fee. This puts an incredible burden on the families outside plus provides an incentive for the black market phones in prison.
If they want to lower the demand, then lower the prices of the calls placed form inside the prison. They can make it a reasonable price and still make a profit. In addition, they could consider selling "calling cards" at the prison commissaries allowing a prisoner to make a choice between using any funds he has for food or luxuries or to call home.
People ask us "When is the time to start preparing a parole packet?" Most of you know, a parole packet or a parole presentation package, is a collection of documents and pictures that is sent to the parole board to help them get to know the potential parolee a little better. This is particularly important in Texas since there is not an interview with the actual member of the parole board who will be voting.
Our answer as to when to start is always the same.
There are many reasons for this, but the main thing to remember is it is better to have the information and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Many times it takes much longer to get the information together than you would think and people are forced to submit packets without all of the materials.
We discuss the various parts of the packet in our eBook, How to Prepare a Texas Parole Presentation Package, available as a download which can then be used to prepare the packet or as a download and printed copy. As a bookstore, we can mail the printed copy to a prisoner at his unit or directly to you. By all means, if you can afford a parole attorney, hire one, but if you can't, our low priced eBook will help you to do the best job possible.