SOUTH PLAINFIELD – Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. introduced legislation to crack down on the illegal use of cell phones in New Jersey prisons, proposing a two-pronged approach to combat the rising concern.
“Illegal cell phone use by prisoners has become a leading worry throughout the entire country and has played a leading role in the expansion of gangs both behind bars and on our streets,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This is a deep and widespread problem plaguing prisons across America, and while we’ve taken aggressive steps here in New Jersey to combat it, these bills would simply boost our efforts and enhance public safety.”
A recent article in The Star-Ledger detailed how officers and investigators seized 391 cell phones in New Jersey prisons and halfway houses in the year since the state started keeping track. More than a third of all cell phones were found in Northern State Prison in Newark, which houses New Jersey’s most dangerous gang members, or four associated halfway houses.
Statistics from other states show an explosion in cell phone smuggling. In California, officers found 3,500 phones through July of this year, more than in all of 2008. In Texas, officers have found more than 900 phones so far, compared with 1,200 last year.
The first bill (A-4122) would establish a pilot program that would require the state to solicit proposals from public and private sector entities for the lease or purchase, installation and operation of a state-of-the-art wireless communications device detection system for use by correctional facilities.
“This program would assist in the detection and location of wireless telephones and other wireless communications devices in the possession of prisoners,” Diegnan said. “In the end, this would improve public safety and ensure jail time does what it’s supposed to do – foil the ability of a prisoner to continue to wreak havoc in society.”
The other bill (A-4123) would direct the state to install within state correctional facilities the technology to block the transmission and reception of cellular telephone equipment signals carrying voice, text messages, images and other data.
“Incarceration should be a time for reflection and rehabilitation, not for continuing criminal enterprises or intimidating witnesses,” Diegnan said. “We should take advantage of the technology we have to ensure offenders aren’t simply moving the bases of their operations behind bars thanks to cell phones.”
The bill requires the technology be implemented in such a way as to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with emergency or public safety communication, that it operates at the lowest possible transmission level necessary to block cellular telephone equipment transmission and reception and that it doesn’t interfere with cellular telephone equipment transmission and reception of signals that originate and terminate outside of the state’s correctional facilities.
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