In 2010, notorious California prisoner Charles Manson was caught with a flip under his prison mattress. Officials said Manson made calls and sent text messages to people across the country for reasons still unknown. Earlier the same year, two escapees from a minimum-security work detail at California’s Folsom prison used a contraband cell phone to arrange for a friend to pick them up. Cell phones have troubled prison officials for several years, but smartphones present even more serious problems. With internet access, prisoners can—at a minimum—continue to direct the criminal activity of others from inside prison or even directly participate in criminal behavior while locked up. At the end of 2010, Georgia prisoners used e-mail lists and smartphones to coordinate simultaneous protests and work-stoppages among inmates at several Georgia prisons. Then, using pseudonyms, they shared hour-by-hour updates with followers on Facebook and Twitter while holding news media interviews and monitoring the coverage of their protest (Dolan 2010; Severson & Brown 2011).
Criminals are put in prison in order to restrict their ability to harm citizens and their property. This incapacitation, or restricting freedom of movement, is an important goal when punishing offenders. But what if a prisoner is able to continue interacting in the community even from a prison cell? Is incapacitation still a reasonable punishment goal when prisoners can continue to interact with people outside the prison walls?
Even when meeting the goal of incapacitation, it is possible to seek the goal of rehabilitation. Prisoner-rights advocates argue that cell phones let prisoners stay in touch with family and friends while they are in prison. Such contact is crucial, advocates argue, to successful reintegration after the prisoner’s release. For example, when he’s not counting down on his Facebook page the remaining days of his three-year prison sentence, a Georgia prisoner uses his smartphone to...
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