During an National Public Radio interview on a variety of prison topics with Laura Sullivan, NPR’s prisons and police correspondent spoke about the rising problems of cell phones inside Criminal U.
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. I mean, cell phones have become a huge problem in the nation’s prisons. Wardens across this country will tell you that they – it’s a problem they simply don’t know how to get a hold of. And it’s also a problem that a lot of prison officials don’t want to talk about because the truth is that most of the cell phones are getting into the prisons through correctional officers.
CONAN: And that’s presumably a lucrative business.
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. I mean, right now, the going rate, prisoners tell me, is about $500 for a cell phone. So – and once it’s out of the officer’s hands, there’s no way to really trace it back to that officer. It’s just $500 easy money.
And then on the outside, the families will pay the service plan. Families will give it to the correctional officer, who will just be a pass-through to the inmate.
The guards — officially called correctional officers by their politically correct title — understand life inside better than most people on the outside. Many are simply hostile. They’ve been around enough inmates to know the revolving door that brings them back again and again. They’ve seen the cons and the games and all the stuff that makes working with inmate population so difficult. They know well that every stereotype is true to some degree.
But they also, more than anyone, capitalize on the system and contribute to its brokenness. It’s the dirty secret of the Department of Corrections, only its not a secret and few administrators have the will to change the culture of exploitation that exists among prison guards.
They bring in cell phones at $500 a pop. When the pressure gets high, they’ll lead the search that discovers those cell phones and send the inmates with them to the hole. They’ll smuggle in cigarettes and drugs and what not, then turn around and bust inmates for contraband. They’ll make sure their dealer gets by without being searched.
Of course, I’m stereotyping. The response: A few bad apples. Of course. But we don’t know, because there are no statistics. Nobody really wants to know how bad the problem is because they know: it’s bad.
Prison reform has to include those who run the prisons. It needs a complete culture change, one that values those trying to be part of the solution rather than those who simply want to profit from the situation as it is. Nobody knows this better than prison administrations. But when will they get the will to enact true change?