Selfies of criminals using cannabis, videos of street gang members partying behind bars… Despite the authorities’ efforts to stem this scourge, more and more prisoners are posting content on social media. A record number of mobile phones were confiscated in 2021, according to La Presse.
Posted at 5:00 am
Delivered by drone, sometimes to the window, mobile phones flow like hotcakes behind bars, where they are strictly forbidden. Quebec prison guards confiscate 100 cellphones in prison each month, more than double the number before the pandemic.
In 2021, law enforcement officials seized 959 cellphones. A record set to be broken in 2022, nearly 1,000 cellphones were confiscated in the first nine months of 2022, according to the Department of Public Safety obtained by The Press.
It has become fairly commonplace for a prisoner to post on Instagram or Snapchat, call his accomplices on the street, or even respond to insults by his enemies on social media.
Incarcerated criminals expose themselves with complete impunity. They appear unrestrained in their communications while in prison, feeding their social networks by posting videos from their cells.
In barely an hour of browsing Instagram and Snapchat, La Presse was able to view a dozen videos and photos posted from within a prison.
“Free me”, “I’m going out soon”, “Free the gang”: “Prison selfies” have become the new normal.
Selling cell phones in prison is unsurprisingly a lucrative market. In early 2020, prices could range from $500 to $1000. The amounts to pay to buy a mobile phone have increased during the pandemic. Two sources told La Presse they paid $2,500 for a cell phone; They shared their valuable device with other prisoners to cut costs.
Everyone wants a cell in Bordeaux. The boys get together to buy something. Want to keep in touch with your friends, read the news, see what’s happening meanwhile? [que tu es incarcéré].
One of the sources who have a phone in Bordeaux
Using a cell phone in prison offers an opportunity to feed its subscribers from oblivion, but could also allow conflicts to continue or even escalate. “It allows you to be aware of what is happening [dans la rue]. And if someone provokes you, you react. »
“What we are capturing is the tip of the iceberg,” says Mathieu Lavoie, president of the Syndicat des agents de la paix en services correctnels du Québec. “It’s a scourge for agent safety,” the union leader warned in an interview.
For the past decade, 400 to 500 cellphones have been confiscated from provincial law enforcement officials annually, according to data released during the National Assembly’s appropriation investigation.
Mobile phones, like drugs and medicines, are a highly valued commodity by inmates. “It allows them to continue their criminal activities, to do banking and to communicate their criminal connections to the outside world. It has a significant price within the walls, from $500 to $1,000,” explains Mathieu Lavoie.
A phone also allows criminals to maintain their reputation on social media. Some also post photos out of sheer bravery.
It’s a challenge to say, “Look, I’m in jail.” Some have been spotted taking pictures of themselves in jail with bottles of alcohol or with bladed weapons.
Mathieu Lavoie, President of the Union of Peace Officers in Correctional Services of Quebec
However, Mathieu Lavoie does not link this increase in seizures to the pandemic. However, he speculates that the long periods spent in prison due to COVID-19 may have eased seizures as inmates had greater difficulty hiding their phones.
The Department of Public Security attributes the explosion in seizures to officials’ use of “dynamic searches,” improved search techniques, and the development of correctional resources. Tracing phones is a “priority” issue for the department, spokeswoman Louise Quintin stresses, because owning a device allows inmates to continue their criminal activities, intimidate a witness or contact a victim. e.
Delivered to the window
Almost all mobile phones are delivered by drone, a scourge that plagues the prison system, particularly at Montreal (Bordeaux) Asylum and Rivière-des-Prairies Prison. “This is absolutely daily, even several times in the same day. And the amounts are getting bigger and bigger,” plagues Mathieu Lavoie.
Some inmates even get the royal treatment: Cell phones and medicines are delivered directly to their cell window by drone. Photos provided to La Presse show inmates managing to modify the windows of their cells to obtain flying packages.
“In Bordeaux we have a significant number of non-functional cells because the windows are broken,” laments Mathieu Lavoie.
Nearly two drones have been spotted near prisons in Quebec on the island of Montreal every day for the past year. That’s nearly three times more than in 2019-2020, when 225 drones were sighted, according to data released during the National Assembly’s appropriation probe.
In 2021, out of the 689 drones detected by fixes, about 400 were able to deliver a package. 86% of the figure was recovered by the agents, the Ministry of Public Security says. However, that seizure rate dropped to 78% in 2022. The number of drones sighted monthly has also decreased over the past year (48 in 2022 versus 57 in 2021).
The Correctional Officers Union estimates that less than a third of drones are detected due to a lack of technological tools. Despite the explosion of the problem, detection devices that are faster or can prevent drones from flying over prisons have not been deployed, lamented union leader Mathieu Lavoie.
On the contrary, the Ministry of Public Security boasts of having implemented mobile drone detection technology in certain prisons since October 2018 and has secured 21 courtyards in addition to securing the windows. The ministry is ensuring steps are being taken to install new systems at three facilities it is prioritizing.