Mobile phones have for at least, the past two decades, become indispensable companions in our daily lives. They come in handy in diverse circumstances and have undoubtedly become tools for social cohesion today.
Communication in all forms are facilitated by mobile phones; voice and video calls, text messages and various multimedia messages are transmitted through this medium. Businesses, families and acquaintances are sustained through the constant use of mobile phones.
With the increasing need to use mobile phones in our daily lives comes a major security challenge: mobile phones in jails. Prisons are a reflection of society and so incarcerated persons are expected to have use for mobile phones. Most prisons in Ghana operate communication centres where inmates are allowed limited call times with family and friends, though to the hearing and understanding of a supervising officer.
The issue under the circumstance is, most inmates want to own and freely operate mobile phones behind bars, a prohibited act in our prisons.
How do phones get into prisons?
No security system is foolproof, a reason for which some prohibited articles find their way into prisons. With the high demand of mobile phones in prison comes a willing number of persons risking their smuggling for monetary gains.
A number of phones in our facilities are smuggled in by visitors who come to visit incarcerated persons. They are concealed in obscure areas of items they bring to inmates making it difficult for gate security officers without appropriate gadgets like scanners and metal detectors to notice. Others conceal them in their hair, footwear, underwear and other parts of their bodies.
In other circumstances, inmates sent out for outdoor labour, medical care and courts have the tendency of smuggling contrabands into facilities if escorting officers lose supervision the slightest bit. There are disgusting cases where inmates insert portable phones and accessories into their anus to outwit security at the prison gate.
There are circumstances also where corrupt prison staff engage in mobile phone smuggling and trade with inmates. These individuals mostly conceal the contrabands in accoutrements like boots, caps and under their belts as they attempt to outwit security at the gate. Gate security officers at the Ankaful Maximum Security Prison in the past two years have apprehended five prison staff who attempted to smuggle contrabands including mobile phones into the facility.
All persons found culpable of smuggling prohibited articles into prisons are handed over to the police for prosecution. Prison staff and inmates involved in this act apart from criminal prosecution, undergo service disciplinary procedures and suffer appropriate sanctions. The trial and imprisonment of a prison officer in April, 2018 to 13 years IHL for hauling contrabands into a prison is testimony that, no prison staff engaged in activities which expose the security of our prisons and or brings the name of the service into disrepute is shielded.
Prisons are total institutions, as all aspects of the prisoner’s life are regulated. Certain rights of individuals are deprived at the prison as attempts are made to correct their offending behaviours. The prohibition of mobile phones is to prevent unrestricted prisoner communication with the outside world.
Though few inmates use these phones to communicate with acquaintances, most use them to perpetuate crimes from within prison walls.
There are reported cases where inmates with phones establish amorous relationships with women outside prison walls, pretending to be Ghanaian businessmen living abroad. These relationships grow to the extent where they exchange nude images and videos with the unsuspecting women. They mostly end up duping the women of huge sums of monies or blackmailing them with the threat of leaking their nudes on social media.
Prisoners with phones have the tendency of directing crimes from prisons as they are in constant touch with gangs outside. Phones can also be used to plan escapes as incarcerated persons could easily feed gangs outside with security situations of prisons where they serve. Inmates with phones are also able to facilitate the smuggling of drugs and other prohibited articles into our prisons.
It is interesting to note that some inmates, especially those on remand, through the use of phones, threaten lawyers and witnesses and attempt to interfere with police investigations. This has the tendency of undermining the work of police investigators and the outcome of cases in the long run.
Keeping society safe
The era where drugs and cigarettes were the contrabands of choice for prisoners and smugglers is fading as mobile phones have emerged as the new trend.
Periodic arrests, prosecution and jailing of smugglers as well as searches to rid inmate cells of prohibited articles suggest that the Ghana Prisons Service is bent on making our facilities contraband-free. The rest is for government to provide necessary security gadgets to aid in detecting and retrieving contrabands at the prison gate and in the case of phones, if possible, network jammers to interfere with communications on smuggled devices.
The smuggling of all forms of contrabands into prisons should be criminalised as the current situation where smugglers arrested at our facilities only face criminal charges when the smuggled items are narcotics is not deterrent enough. There is the need for the enactment of an umbrella legislation to criminalise the smuggling of all prohibited articles into prisons.
It should be noted that, mobile phones in prisons could be as destructive as guns as they are used by prisoners to continue criminal activities from where they left off.
Article: DSP. Daniel MACHATOR
The writer, DSP. Daniel Machator, is the Central Regional PRO, Ghana Prisons Service. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.