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Cell phones and cigarettes banned in state correctional facilities

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Prisoners caught smuggling cell phones or cigarettes into state prison will face new penalties. A law signed last week that will make it a criminal offense to sell or give inmates wireless communications devices or tobacco products.

“We’re seeing an increasing phenomenon with cell phones being smuggled into our correctional facilities,” said Michael Bell, correctional administrator.

So far this year, correctional officials have confiscated about 250 cell phones in North Carolina prisons. Three were from the Pender Correctional Facility, in Burgaw.

“Two of them were found in plastic buried in plastic in a flower bed, the other one was found inside a potato chip bag,” Bell explained.

Bell said inmates use the cell phones to communicate with family and gang members on the outside.

Strict security and surveillance pose a challenge for prisoners, so some even pay guards to smuggle in the contraband. A new law heightens the consequences.

“It will become a criminal offense if a person provides either tobacco products or cell phones or cell phone components to prison inmates, punishable by up to four months in jail,” Bell said.

Half of the inmates at this prison were smokers. They were forced to quit last month. Phillip Owens was one of them. “It’s healthier choice for me to quit smoking. I quit two weeks before the ban to get myself prepared for it.”

Although not everyone likes the new rules, Michael Bell said there are good reasons behind them. “Cell phones is a security issue, the tobacco is a health issue.”

Bell says North Carolina joined 24 states petitioning the FCC to allow correctional facilities to install a technology within the facility to block cell phone signals inside the perimeter. He says one concern with this however is that the block could affect cell signals near the facility.

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videoPrisoners caught smuggling cell phones or cigarettes into state prison will face new penalties. A law signed last week that will make it a criminal offense to sell or give inmates wireless communications devices or tobacco products.

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