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Cellular phones in prison cells

Retired Superintendent of Prisons.

It appeared in the front page of The Island on 14.08.2008, that an extortion ring led from the Anuradhapura prison had been busted. The extortion ring king pin had used a mobile phone inside the prison to run the operation. It was the Crime Detection Bureau that exposed this extortion racket, masterminded by a prisoner at the Anuradhapura prison. This was revealed when a wealthy Colombo businessman complained to the Crime Detection Bureau of death threats by an anonymous caller, who had demanded Rupees ten million. Investigations revealed that there was a cellular phone and over 15 SIM cards in the cell of the suspect. The question that arises is, how did the suspect get a cellular phone and SIM cards in to the prison? Was his cell searched? Who is responsible for this lapse? It also revealed that this suspect received special treatment in the prison.

A few years ago, a former Commissioner General of Prisons revealed that over a hundred cellular phones were found in a prison, in Colombo. This is a sad reflection on the administration of certain prisons.

Certain strategies are adopted to prevent unauthorised items coming into the prisons. New remand and convicted prisoners were thoroughly searched and their private property taken over, before they enter the prison. Jail service prisoners who are sent out to clean prison premises are searched before they are sent to the prison. Prisoners escorted to courts and for treatment in hospitals are searched before they are sent in. Visits of prisoners are supervised by a Jailor. There are frequent checks of premises, wards and cells to detect any unauthorised items. All these precautions are carried out to prevent a lapse pertaining to security and to maintain order and discipline in the prisons.

In the recent past, we have observed that major crimes are initiated, planned and executed from the prisons with the aid of cellular phones. The main culprit of the crime gets out Scot free, because he is not on the scene of the crime. In this instance, for the officers of the Crime Detection Bureau to visit the cell and nab the suspect, reflects adversely on the administration of the prisons.

I remember that in the mid Nineteen Seventies when JVP leader Marasinghe was rescued from the Kekirawa Railway Station, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike made a scathing criticism of the security aspect of prisoners. Mr. Delgoda, the Commissioner of Prisons organised a seminar for staff officers, pertaining to the security of special prisoners. Discussion was on action taken from the point a special prisoner is taken out of his cell, till he is handed over. Thereafter a circular was sent out to all prisons. This seminar was at the centre for research for training in corrections. It was observed that escapes of special prisoners were brought down to the bare minimum.

Consequently, considering the fact that the possession of cellular phones has become a problem, the Department of Prisons should adopt a consistent plan of action to get rid of cellular phones in prisons. In service training courses should be organised to motivate the staff officers. If any officers have colluded in getting cellular phones in to the prisons, then stern disciplinary action should be taken by the department against them.

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