Monday 7 February 2011

Inmates Facebooking from prison

At first glance, Roy Kim's Facebook profile appears rather ordinary, with a steady feed of photos and personal updates.

But in one way it is remarkable: The 21-year-old is serving time in state prison.

He shows off his tattoos, provides news on prison life, communicates with his girlfriend, and promises his friends he will be out soon.

"Just chillin' doin my time in the joint," he posted Oct. 9. "Got me a phone ... I be playin' on this (expletive) cuz I ain't got (expletive) else to do."

He is serving a sentence for holding a South Bend couple against their will with a shotgun in 2007, records show.

On Jan. 1, he posted four photos, apparently from his cell, grinning beside a prison cot showing off tattoos on his forearms, neck and chest.

Kim's profile has gone undetected by officials at Westville Correctional Facility, and it is not clear how he is accessing the Internet.

But he could be doing it via a smart phone, a new form of contraband being smuggled into prisons across the country.

New threats

Cell phones have long been a problem for prisons, but smart phones, which allow Internet access, are becoming increasingly common and pose an even greater threat, prison officials said.

"Smart phones allow for activity that we simply cannot have," said Indiana Department of Correction communications chief Doug Garrison. "It allows for too much communication, not the least of which is the potential to plot crimes."

Garrison said "thousands and thousands" of phones are confiscated every year from Indiana prisons and a growing number of them are ones that allow Internet access.

"It's a serious problem for us," Garrison said. "There's no question."

Kim's brazen Facebook profile has gone undetected for at least five months.

When contacted by The Tribune via Facebook about how he accesses his profile from prison, Kim's girlfriend responded on his account saying that she, not him, was managing the profile.

When asked how she obtained pictures of Kim inside prison, she said Kim "borrowed his friend's phone" to take them and sent them to her.

But Kim and his girlfriend have conversations on Kim's Facebook page, casting doubt that his girlfriend is posing as him.

Garrison said he would investigate Kim's apparent Facebook activity further.

How common?

Data on the exact number of cell phones seized in Indiana state prisons were not available late last week, but Garrison said the numbers are staggering.

He noted that for all the phones that are confiscated, there might be just as many that go undetected.

Inmates obtain the phones in a variety of ways. They might be packaged up and thrown over prison walls, smuggled in by jail officials or even the inmate himself.

At the St. Joseph County Jail, for example, a heavyset female inmate once smuggled in a cell phone by hiding it in the folds of her skin, said St. Joseph County spokesman Sgt. William Redman.

But the county jail has far less problems with cell phones than state prisons. Redman could recall only a handful of incidents involving mobile devices in the last five years.

In one case, a medical worker in the jail smuggled a cell phone in for an inmate, he said. She was later caught, criminally charged, and convicted, Redman said. 

Cell phones are prohibited in the jail among both inmates and employees.

Possessing a phone in jail is not necessarily a crime. It is a crime only if someone traffics in the cell phone, Garrison said.

If inmates — whether in jail or prison — are caught with a cell phone, they are generally disciplined internally, meaning some of their privileges might be revoked or restricted.

The spike in cell phone problems is not unique to Indiana. In California, officials said they discovered 9,000 phones in 2010, according to The New York Times. Convicted killer Charles Manson was recently caught with two cell phones in a California prison.

Federal prisons also have reported marked increases.

Prison communication

According to Kim's Facebook page, he has a touch screen AT&T LG phone. He listed the phone number in October on his page.

Kim appears to exchange photos and messages with another inmate who is on Facebook under a pseudonym.

Last week, that inmate, who goes by Jae Flickka, posted the following:

"I do more here than most (expletive)s do out there."

Mary Kate Malone

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