Yet another indication of the needless lawlessness in America’s prisons. The situation, alas, will not improve until enough people speak out. READ Prison Abuse – Why Massive Indifference is a Massive Mistake – kra = http://www.citizensforcriminaljustice.net/prison-abuse-massive-indifference-massive-mistake/
I love this quote: “How do cellphones get in? Through several avenues, ADOC says, including visitors and unsecured perimeters at prisons. Last year, ADOC said it made more than 60 arrests for crimes ranging from smuggling contraband cell phones to drug trafficking.” The truth is that 90% of ALL prison contraband is brought in by the guards!
Excerpts from the Article:
Linda Donahoo says she occasionally gets phone calls from inmates at Easterling Correctional Facility in Barbour County. That’s where her son Shannon is imprisoned. The phone calls are simple: Send money, or your son could die.
She says she sent $300 last time. She’s sent larger sums over the years – $400, $500. The money is sent through Green Dot, Pay Pal, Western Union or Walmart cards. She reports the calls, she says, to the Alabama Department of Corrections and to federal authorities.
Donahoo’s story of extortion is similar to those found during an extensive two-and-a-half-year federal investigation of Alabama prisons, released this month by the U.S. Department of Justice. “Alabama’s inability to prevent and address the extortion of prisoners and prisoners’ family members leads to a substantial risk of serious harm,” the report stated. The federal findings provided seven examples, along with screenshots of texts with threats, painting a picture of criminals behind bars able to extend influence on innocent relatives beyond the walls.
“They say, don’t pay it,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t want my son dead over money.’ I’ve spent nearly everything I’ve got trying to keep him alive, any time he’s out in population.”
Shannon Donahoo, 46, has been in Alabama’s prisons for 26 years following a murder conviction in Talladega County. Housed in Easterling, he is a four-hour car trip from his mother’s home in Pell City. Linda, 72, can no longer make the journey because of her vision, affected by cataracts. In addition to the extortion threats, she regularly pays money for debts her son may incur behind bars. But the extortion calls are the worst.
“They’ve been standing over him, fixing to kill him, sometimes when they call,” she said. “It’s horrible. It’s because he’s on drugs. But it’s happened in different prisons. I never know who it is.” She says the calls began more than 15 years ago, at different prisons, but with the same threats of violence and death.
Linda has documented her son’s time in prison, writing letters on notebook paper to wardens, prison officials and others advocating for her son. Her letters, in a flowing cursive script, turn bold when she repeats a familiar phrase: “He is in fear for his life.” It is that devotion that drives her to continue to pay the extortion money.
“When your kid hurts, you hurt,” she said. “If you care about your son or daughter, you’d do anything you could in the world to help them.”
Donahoo said she didn’t speak to the Justice Department during its investigation, but others have fallen victim to similar schemes. According to the DOJ report, a Ventress prisoner’s mother in January 2018 reported that she and her son were being extorted for money to pay off an alleged $600 debt to another prisoner. Because of his failure to pay, the victim was beaten and threatened with rape. “His mother later called to report that she was being extorted by a prisoner at Ventress who texted her photos of a prisoner’s genitals from a cell phone,” the report stated. “Through texts, he threatened to chop her son into pieces and rape him if she did not send him $800. In February 2018, the inmate called our toll-free line and affirmed what his mother had reported.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections says it investigates every extortion case involving inmates and “will charge and prosecute any individual proven to be involved,” whether the person is an inmate or not. Over the past 18 months, ADOC says its Investigations and Intelligence Division has looked into 18 extortion cases. The department notes that extortion schemes are often associated with illegal contraband, such as cell phones, which officers look for during contraband sweeps in its institutions.
Alabama’s men’s prisons are at 180 percent of capacity and have about one-third the security staff needed.
Over the last few months, ADOC has initiated several high-profile contraband sweeps through its prisons. Last week, more than 300 law enforcement officers staged a predawn raid at William C. Holman Correctional Facility, beginning about 4:30 a.m. at the maximum-security Atmore lockup, which houses 870 inmates. Officers seized 356 makeshift weapons, 91 grams of meth, 98 grams of marijuana, cocaine, more than 400 assorted pills and 16 cellphones, ADOC officials announced Friday.
In February, ADOC held another contraband raid at St. Clair Correctional Facility. Over the last three years, ADOC says it has confiscated more than 12,000 cellphones in sweeps of all its facilities.
How do cellphones get in? Through several avenues, ADOC says, including visitors and unsecured perimeters at prisons. Last year, ADOC said it made more than 60 arrests for crimes ranging from smuggling contraband cell phones to drug trafficking. There are other ways for contraband to get in. Last year, federal prisons were added to FAA restricted zones for drones – another potential method of getting items to inmates. While state prisons are not included in this, ADOC said a review is underway about adding them.
Last February, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn and other state corrections directors met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission about introducing new technology, such as jamming equipment, to make contraband cellphones unusable inside correctional facilities. But this would require action from Congress and the FCC. And these remedies are not cheap. A similar system under consideration for the South Carolina prison system, which includes 17 facilities, was estimated at costing $9 million.
And as with other problems facing Alabama prisons, ADOC said preventing contraband could be improved by hiring more officers and building better prisons. In February, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that her administration will seek bids for building three regional prisons for men to replace aging, cramped facilities that ADOC has said are too costly to maintain and repair.
“By increasing our staffing and improving the conditions of our facilities, we will be able to build on some of the new processes and procedures that have been implemented to prevent contraband from entering our facilities,” the department said. That makes sense to John Blume, the director of Cornell University’s Death Penalty Project. Blume represents death penalty and juvenile offender cases and has some familiarity with contraband issues. He said an inmate in another state’s prison system laughed at the idea of drones bringing in contraband. Most of the items come in, he said, by correctional officers. A regular morning sweep of prison perimeters would eliminate most of the items getting in. “They’re understaffed and underpaid,” Blume said of correctional officers. “That creates the financial incentive to bring it in. When you’re short staffed, there’s not a lot of oversight. Better pay would reduce the financial incentives, and more officers would increase the professionalism.”
One case last year in Alabama illustrates the problem. A correctional officer with a 10-year career was arrested in December after investigators said they found multiple packages containing 10 cell phones during a search of his vehicle. ADOC said the officer admitted to purchasing the phones with the intention of receiving payment from inmates.
And extortion schemes are not specific to Alabama prisons. Last year, five South Carolina inmates and 10 other people were implicated in what authorities called a “sextortion ring.” According to investigators, the inmates created fake profiles on dating websites and posed as women who wanted to date military personnel. They sent nude photos found online, requesting nude photos in return. The inmates would then contact the victims pretending to be the father of a juvenile female and demanding hush money. Authorities said the racket brought in more than $560,000 from 442 military personnel.
Blume said contraband and extortion rackets also point to another issue – prisons with lack of programming and rehabilitation services, Blume said. Inmates with little incentive to do anything other than drugs will engage in extortion, among other things, as the level of violence and abuse continues to escalate behind bars.
“We’ve created a system that’s all stick and no carrot,” he said. “At a certain point, all stick won’t work.”