Cell Phones in Prison Can Organize, Livestream Riots

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Most prisons outlaw cell phones. And yet that doesn't seem to stop many prisoners from obtaining cell phones and even keep up with their Facebook and Twitter accounts from inside. (Maybe all those prison guards should stop smuggling cell phones to inmates. Or prisons could hire more phone-sniffing dogs like the one at Riker's Island.)

And here's a new worry, from "Alabama's most violent prison" -- inmates are using cell phones to organize and livestream protests and prison riots.

The Riot Will Be Livestreamed

The Daily Beast's Kenneth Lipp talked, via illicit cell phones, to several inmates at Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama (just northwest of Mobile) about a week after prisoners had taken control of "C" Dorm, "setting fires and smashing windows -- and livestreaming it on Facebook with smuggled-in cellphones."

The riot erupted after a fight between two inmates, but it was largely directed at the prison staff, and especially at Holman's warden who was stabbed during the riot. As Lipp notes:

"Carter F. Davenport became warden of Holman Correctional Facility in December after four years in charge of St. Clair Correctional Facility. When he started at St. Clair, it was Alabama's least-violent maximum security prison; after he was done, the murder rate jumped 200 percent. Inmates say Davenport has brought the ruthless methods used at St. Clair to Holman with disastrous results."

Davenport, and a corrections officer who was also stabbed, survived the riot.

Problems at Holman

Beyond Warden Davenport (and Lipp's piece details a litany of accusations and lawsuits and is well worth the read), Holman was already at 150 percent its capacity, and prisoners complained of overcrowding. Each dorm, designed to hold 100 inmates, was packed with around 140, "reminiscent of an emergency shelter or refugee camp."

While prison officials obviously want to eradicate cell phones from inmate populations (they can also be used to organize gang violence and even continue outside drug trafficking operations), it's likely that much of the evidence of overcrowding at Holman or of the recent riot never would've surfaced. And if that leads to prison improvements, in conditions or personnel, maybe smuggled cell phones can do as much good as harm.

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