Bill helps prisons crack down on cell phones

CARSON CITY -- Nevada prisons are among the few places you can't bring your cell phone, and prisons chief Howard Skolnik asked lawmakers Thursday to help to keep it that way.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee obliged, unanimously approving Assembly Bill 106, 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. We need to be able to sanction people, 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, including scams and fraud. Standard telephone lines in prisons are all monitored and recorded by prison employees.

Skolnik said federal 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 post reminders of the consequences for visitors.

"Most of it is not intentional," Skolnik said. After visiting areas have signs inside and out, "I have a feeling people will start thinking about leaving cell phones in their car."

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.


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