Rise in inmate deaths attributed to smuggled cell phones

This is an epidemic in correctional facilities across the country

By Leischen Stelter

Cell phones are proving to be one of the most dangerous weapons inside correctional facilities. “In prisons across the U.S., one of most popular items smuggled into facilities are cell phones and smart phones,” said Mark Bridgeman, President of the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association. “This connectivity provides an opportunity for gangs to continue running their operations from within prison walls.”

This is an epidemic in correctional facilities across the country. For example, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found a rise in inmate deaths in the state can be largely attributed to the use of cell phones by gang members within and outside prison walls, according to The Augusta Chronicle. Of the nine inmates and one corrections officer killed last year, the GBI says seven were prison gang related. The three killings in 2013 are also gang-related, the paper reported.

The Georgia Department of Corrections has acknowledged smuggled cell phones are a major problem and revealed that as many as 10,000 have been confiscated from prisoners in a year, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While cell phones can allow prisoners to conduct gang-related business from within prison walls, when phones are recovered it can also provide significant amounts of intelligence for corrections officials. “We can download all the data from the device and get an entire network of individuals in one shot,” said Bridgeman.

Intelligence gathering continues to be a primary focus for correctional facilities across the country in an effort to stem this rising violence. Bridgeman, who is only three classes away from getting his Master of Arts in Intelligence Studies from American Military University, said that each correctional facility in North Carolina has an intelligence officer who is responsible for collecting information about individual prisoners and vetting their gang affiliations.

However, effectively sharing that information can prove to be the most challenging part. While partnerships between correctional agencies and law enforcement agencies have improved in recent years, much work still needs to be done. “Corrections have been an underutilized resource within the law enforcement community,” said Bridgeman. “There is now starting to be a blend between corrections intelligence in law enforcement cases where there hadn’t before, but it’s still an evolving process.”

It’s important to build better, streamlined networks. For example, the National Gang Intelligence Center is a repository where officers can report information and help connect the dots. Bridgeman said that the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations is also a great resource to help bring local and national law enforcement and corrections officer together. When it comes down to it, it’s still a lot about individual relationships, said Bridgeman. He said there have been numerous examples of cases getting solved during member association conferences and meetings. “We have to work smarter, not harder,” he said. “Communication is a key component of that.” 

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