Cell phones in prisons should be a crime, lawmakers told | NevadaAppeal.com

Cell phones in prisons should be a crime, lawmakers told

JOE MULLIN
Associated Press Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Greg Smith, with the Nevada Department of Corrections, said Thursday that nearly two dozen cell phones have been confiscated by state prison officials in the past year. Lawmakers approved a measure Thursday that would make it a crime to bring unauthorized cell phones into prisons and other state detention facilities.
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Nevada prisons are among the few places you can’t bring your cell phone, and Nevada prisons chief Howard Skolnik told lawmakers Thursday he wants their help in keeping it that way.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee obliged, unanimously approving AB106, an Assembly-approved bill that would make it a crime to bring unauthorized cell phones into prisons and other state detention facilities.

Cell phones already are prohibited by regulation in prisons, but there’s no legal authority to enforce the ban, Skolnik said.

“They’re very dangerous inside an institution,” said Skolnik. “We need to be able to sanction people (who bring in phones), particularly our employees.”

In a 2005 case, a prisoner used a cell phone to set up a successful escape. Cell phones also can be used for a variety of criminal activity inside prisons, including scams and fraud. The standard telephone lines in prisons are all monitored and recorded by prison employees.

Skolnik said federal communications laws prevent states from blocking radio waves, so Nevada officials can’t take action to actually block cell phone coverage inside prisons.

If the bill becomes law, anyone knowingly furnishing a prisoner with a cell phone could be charged with a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison. Inmates could face the same penalty for possessing a cell phone. A visitor or employee who just brings a cell phone into a prison could face misdemeanor penalties.

Skolnik said prisons would put up postings both inside and outside of prisons to remind visitors of the consequences of bringing in a cell phone.

“Most of it is not intentional,” said Skolnik.

Some Judiciary Committee members expressed surprise that clandestine cell phones in prisons were a problem.

“What other contraband and weapons are getting through the system?” asked Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas. “I’m wondering if we shouldn’t tighten up the gate.”

Skolnik replied that a lack of funds has prevented prison officials from investing in more technologically advanced security systems.

The committee also passed AB72, which would make it easier to prosecute Internet predators who go online to lure someone they think is a child but instead turns out to be a police investigator.

AB72, a reaction to a Nevada Supreme Court ruling against prosecutors in such cases, would broaden current state law that makes it illegal to knowingly contact or try to contact someone less than 16 with the intent to lure that person into sexual conduct.