This news from an NBC report is no surprise to anyone who follows prisons or works in them: Smuggled cell phones are a problem.

Contraband devices snuck in by visitors or prison staff are a problem at lockups across the nation, but an NBC News review of data from 44 states shows that nine of the 10 states with the highest cellphone seizure rates are in the South.

In South Carolina, prison officers have found and taken one phone for every three inmates, the highest rate in the country. In Oklahoma, it’s one phone for every six prisoners, the nation’s second-highest rate. Other states in the top 10 are Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas and Louisiana; the only one outside the region was California. NBC based its rankings on data provided by the state corrections departments.

Given the confiscatory rates the Arkansas prison system charges for telephone calls — bleeding people who have precious little — you can see where a cell phone would hold allure. They may also be used for illicit purposes, of course. Cell phone smuggling isn’t the only contraband problem. Drugs also are heavily trafficked.


Then the really ugly part: The suggestion that prison staffers facilitate a lot of the contraband. This, again, is not exactly news in Arkansas. How, for example, did a firearm get inside a maximum security unit when guards don’t carry guns?

Experts have linked contraband smuggling to low pay and high turnover for guards — and salaries for corrections officers in the states with the highest smuggling rates are indeed among the lowest in the nation.

“Prison staff in most Southern states are very poorly paid,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “You get what you pay for.”

Think phones are the biggest problem? Consider drones.