Expert: Inmates with cellphones is a 'big, big deal'

Source: Lydia Hu/WBRC
Source: Lydia Hu/WBRC
Published: Mar. 15, 2016 at 2:32 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2016 at 2:52 AM CDT
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ATMORE, AL (WBRC) - Inmates used cell phones to capture the fiery prison riots at Holman Correctional Center. A corrections officer and the warden were stabbed.

"Contraband cell phones are a big deal," said retired Lieutenant Richard Lichten.

Lichten is an expert in police and jail procedures. He says inmates use cell phones to stay connected with their former criminal lives by communicating with people excluded from prison approved communication lists. Prisoners can also plan escapes, threaten witnesses, and orchestrate drug transactions. Phone calls placed on authorized prison phones are monitored and recorded.

According to the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC), a search of Holman after Friday's riot revealed 30 cell phones, makeshift knives, and other contraband items.

"The more searching the better. You can never do enough searches in jails and prisons. They have to be properly done and properly supervised. The inmates have to be treated with respect," said Lichten.

Without cell phones, an inmate's only option is a prison phone and that is not free. DOC contracts with Century Links for prison phone service. According to its website, there is a charge of about 25 cents per minute for phone calls, with additional fees ranging from $3 to $5.95 to set up the account.

"They charge outlandish rates for any calls," said David Gespass, a civil rights attorney based in Birmingham.

Gespass says he pays for his clients to call him from prison.

Though it may not seem expensive, Gespass says some families of inmates cannot afford these phone call fees and the cost of traveling to visit. That means some inmates face losing all contact with loved ones during prison sentences.

Gespass said allowing inmates to maintain contact with friends and family outside of prison is important because that will aid their transition back into society.

"If you can't maintain a relationship during the time that you're in, that becomes that much more difficult," Gespass said.

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