As reported in the Trentonian on August 24, 2009, illicit cell phones remain a major problem inside New Jersey’s prisons, as inmates use the devices to secretly communicate with each other, intimidate witnesses and direct drug deals and other illegal activity. As a result, one New Jersey lawmaker is proposing to give corrections officials more tools to deal with the problem. 

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Jr. recently proposed legislation calling on the State to seek proposals for installing and operating a wireless communications device detection system. Another measure calls for blocking the transmission and reception of cell phone equipment carrying voice, text messages, images and other data within correctional facilities.  No hearings have been scheduled yet on either measure.

Officials would have to ensure that the latter technology would not interfere with emergency or public safety communications and that it operates at the lowest possible transmission level necessary, nor interfere with cell phone signals that originate and end outside the state’s correctional facilities. 

Nearly 400 cell phones have been seized in correctional facilities since August 2008, when officials started keeping track of confiscations, according to State data. More than a third were found in Northern State Prison in Newark, which houses the State’s most dangerous gang members, and four associated halfway houses. Officials say the smuggling problem has worsened in recent years as cell phone technology has improved. They note that newer, smaller phones are made with less metal, making them harder to detect. 

“Incarceration should be a time for reflection and rehabilitation, not for continuing criminal enterprises or intimidating witnesses,” Diegnan said. “We should take advantage of the technology we have to ensure offenders aren’t simply moving the bases of their operations behind bars thanks to cell phones.”

New Jersey, though, is not the only state dealing with a phone smuggling problem. About 3,500 phones have been found in California institutions this year, which is more than the entire total seized in 2008. In Texas, officers have found more than 900 phones so far, compared with 1,200 for all of last year.

“Illegal cell phone use by prisoners has become a leading worry throughout the country and has played a leading role in the expansion of gangs both behind bars and on our streets,” said Diegnan. “While we’ve taken aggressive steps here in New Jersey to combat it, these bills would simply boost our efforts and enhance public safety.”

Print:
Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.