One Man’s Effort to Stop Illegal Cell Phone Use in Prisons

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Prison walls aren't stopping hardened crooks from carrying out dangerous crimes.

The FBI says that the bad guys are conducting business with illegal cellphones even though the guards try to stop it.

WJBF's Robert Kittle spoke to one former prison official who survived a hit on his life… and is leading a push for a new way to fight back.

Former Correctional Officer Robert Johnson still needs a cane to help him walk and he's facing more surgeries. But even his doctors didn't expect him to live.

“Come to find out, they said I bled out three times. They used 63 units of blood on me.”

He had been the Captain in charge of finding contraband at Lee Correctional Institution.

Things like cell phones, that inmates are not allowed to have, but are smuggled in or thrown over prison fences.

Johnson says an inmate used a cell phone to put a hit on him. In March 2010, a man kicked in the front door of Johnson's home.

“He shot me six times at almost point-blank range with a .38.”  

Johnson is now trying to stop inmates from being able to use cell phones. He sued a long list of cell phone companies, saying they didn't do what they could have.

“Our contention is that they could have controlled the signals coming from the prison, and just cut them off.”

It's not just correctional officers who are in danger, though. In a recent Arizona case, three prison inmates used a cell phone to coordinate a prison escape. While they were out, they murdered a couple that was on vacation.

But a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that there's no state law requiring the cell companies to block signals and, in fact, the FCC would not allow them to.

The Department of Corrections says it's doing everything it can and found more than 3,000 illegal cell phones last year.

“We have bought some new equipment that is doing a better job of screening. And of course we think we are doing the types of things on a daily basis that you need to do, with shakedowns of prisoners, checking their cells and whatnot.”

But he says there's no way to stop every cell phone from getting inside.

Johnson plans to appeal his case. He says one problem is that the man charged with shooting him has not gone to trial yet. After that happens he can use that evidence to show that an inmate -did- use a cell phone to put a hit on him.

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