TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Ronald L. Rice to toughen the penalty for possessing a cell phone or other electronic communications devices in prison as a strong deterrent against gang members organizing riots in jails and drug crimes on the streets was approved by the full Senate today.
“In a time when homeland security and gang violence are of such critical concern, we need to step up our efforts and further deter those already convicted from committing any more crimes,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “There is a growing problem among inmates who are using cell phones to orchestrate criminal activity outside of the prison. It has also been suggested that inmates have been found using cell phone to plot prison uprisings.”
The bill, S-448, would make the possession or use of a cell phone by an inmate at a State correctional facility a crime of the second degree which would be added onto their sentence. Crimes of the second degree are punishable by imprisonment of five to ten years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both.
According to Senator Rice, under current law, inmates are prohibited from possessing cell phones, but the penalty for breaking that rule is not severe enough to stop their use sufficiently, because the current punishment merely consists of losing prison privileges.
Senator Rice noted that, by making the offense a second degree crime, “We will create an additional deterrent because an inmate found guilty of possessing or using a cellular phone would receive a significant, additional prison sentence.”
The bill now heads to the Governor’s office for enactment.