I wonder if our Minister of Corrections last night had any sense of how ludicrous his boast sounded, that NZ was the first country in the world to instal technology that would block prisoner cell phone calls.
There is a reason Damien, why you’re first.
Countries that have not turned their prisons into havens for criminals simply do not need to cover their prisons with an electromagnetic blanket. Instead they ban cell phones in prison.
The prison guards, and managers we spoke to on our recent Arizona inspection tour were simply incredulous at our problem. Indeed it took some time for them to work out what we were talking about when we asked them how they dealt with the cell phone problem.
The discussion arose when we queried the cheerfulness of a remand prisoner appealing 32 years without parole. They explained that he was a boss of the Mexican Mafia, and still running his troops from inside. The conversation proceeded along the following lines.
“Ah cellphones” I speculated.
“No, they’re not permitted – he gets his calls one day a week on those blue landlines you saw like anyone else. He runs things through his attorney. We can’t stop those visits“.
“How do you deal with the cell phone problem?” I asked. “As I said, they’re not allowed” was the answer.
“But what about smuggled ones” I persisted. “We check them in at the door, and all staff go through the metal detector”.
“No, I mean cell phones in the hands of prisoners”. “Do you guys give your prisoners cell phones?!”
“No – they just get them, perhaps from visitors, or corrupt guards” we explained. “Our Minister of Corrections has simply given up ensuring that they can’t get them. He says it’s the same all over the world.”
“Wow you’ve got much more serious problems than cell phones. Ours simply can’t have them. Don’t you do strip searches? How do you keep out drugs then? What about weapons? Don’t they hurt each other?
We had nothing to say.
I asked a number of staff about drugs, partly because the prisoners were so obviously in better health, physically and mentally than sullen denizens of most of the prisons I’ve visited in New Zealand.
They do directed and random drug testing. One officer said the directed testing might turn up 1 positive in 20 ( after they’d had time to lose what they came in with) and the random testing turns up next to nothing.
The key was to ensure that all visitors spoke electronically, through glass. They are trialling now video links that can be accessed from anywhere through the internet, so that family do not have to travel to the prison. It is automatically timed to 30 mins per call.
Privacy is one of the rights that become subordinate on conviction. Conversations can be monitored.