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Prison Cell Phones Target Of Congress Crackdown

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WASHINGTON — Congress moved Tuesday to make it tougher for federal prison inmates to use cell phones and wireless devices to direct criminal activities within or outside prison walls.

The House voted by voice to close a loophole in federal law by banning the use or possession of cell phones or wireless devices in federal prisons and classifying those devices as contraband.

Currently, cell phones and wireless devices are not specifically defined as contraband, and inmates and guards caught smuggling the devices into prisons are rarely punished.

The Senate has passed a similar bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sponsor of the Senate measure, cited a recent report from her state that found that inmates pay from $500 to $1,000 for a phone and that one corrupt correctional officer made some $150,000 in one year by smuggling cell phones to inmates.

She said prisoners have been found to use the cells to conduct criminal business outside the prison, including ordering gang hits, running drug operations and conducting credit card fraud.

The legislation would subject anyone trying to provide a cell phone to an inmate to up to a year in prison.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said one reason that prisoners try to obtain cell phones is that they are required to call collect, at considerably more cost, when they make legitimate calls to their families. The bill requires the compiling of a study looking at the costs of providing prisoners with telephone service.

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