NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Inmates On The Line

August 13, 1999

Federal prisons have been using prison telephones for years to line up drug deals and even murders, according to a report from the Justice Department's inspector general's office. It says that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has been aware of the practice for years but has taken "insufficient steps" to curb it.

  • One drug kingpin talked "all day long" over a five year period on his phone from the Lewisburg, Pa., federal prison making arrangements for drug deals -- including conference calls to Colombia.
  • In the 1970s, prison inmates were permitted only one phone call, dialed by a prison staff member, every three months.
  • Now, inmates are allowed to make as many telephone calls as they are able to pay for or as many collect calls as those outside prison will accept.
  • Aside from calls to their attorneys, all inmate calls are recorded -- but only 3.5 percent are listened to.

One inmate used prison telephones trying to arrange the murder of two witnesses and a judge, and to pay for the executions with illegal firearms. One witness was killed and the other injured.

Inmates make about 200,000 calls a day from the 93 federal prisons nationwide. Prison officials cite the possibility of a class-action suit as one factor in their failure to stem the phone abuse.

Source: Gary Fields, "Report: Prison Phone a Tool in Crimes," USA Today; Jerry Seper, "Inmates Use Prison Phones to Keep Committing Crimes," Washington Times, both August 13, 1999.


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