State Senator Jonathan Nichols said he was outraged that members on the Senate Appropriations Committee defeated legislation that would have banned inmates from using cell phones in prison. The former prosecutor said he was stunned by the Wednesday morning vote which killed Senate Bill 654. The measure would have categorized cell phones as illegal contraband in Oklahoma prisons.
“This huge loop-hole in the law was brought to my attention by the Department of Corrections. DOC officials informed me that inmates are using cell phones to harass their victims from prison. I am shocked that some members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations apparently want to make sure that murderers, rapists and child molesters can have a phone in their individual prison cells. I’m sure law abiding Oklahomans across the state, especially those who have been a victim of one of these inmates, will be outraged by this vote as well,” said Nichols, R-Norman.
Certain members argued that it was unreasonable for the state to ban the use of cell phones by inmates.
“How could banning a prisoner from having an unrestricted phone at their disposal be unreasonable, especially when the phone can be used by an inmate to harass victims, police officers, and prosecutors at all times of the night. I even brought to the member’s attention that prisoners were using cell phones with built in cameras to email pornographic images to children and victims, yet the members still voted against banning inmates from having unlimited use of phones in their prison cells.”
Other members argued that it was a hardship for visiting family members to have to leave the phones in their cars before they came into the prison.
“First of all, there are many things visitors cannot bring into prisons. Certainly not a gun or alcohol—not even tobacco products. I don’t think it would be a hardship for them to leave their cell phone in the car during visits,” Nichols said.
One member thought that inmates should be able to call their “loved ones. “
“The problem isn’t inmates being able to call loved ones. The problem is giving prisoners unrestricted cell phones that can be used to harass their victims or other witnesses. We’re talking about convicted murderers, rapists, child molesters and other dangerous criminals. By allowing them to have these phones they are being given the tools to continue victimizing people from behind bars.”
Thirty-eight members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on SB 654, with 19 voting for Nichols’ bill and 19 voting no. A tie vote in committee defeats a bill.
“As a former prosecutor, as a father of two young children, and as an Oklahoman—I am stunned that 19 members could not see that giving these criminals 24 hour access to their victims is a terrifying thing,” Nichols said. “I would encourage other Oklahomans who are equally outraged to call their Senator and ask how they voted on SB 654.”