How Easy Is It to Escape from Prison? Page 2

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A prison wall.
iStockphoto.com/ThinkStock

Technology doesn't only work for the "good guys," though.

"Cell phones are a big problem," Pelz said.

He's referring to cell phones in the hands of prisoners who have family or gang members pay guards to smuggle them in, then use them to plan escapes. Numbers of contraband cellphones found in California prisons increased tenfold between 2007 and 2011, according to Reuters.

How Does Solitary Confinement Alter Prisoners?

"A cell phone can go for $2,500," Pelz said. "99 percent of the guards are there to do a good job, but it's the one percent who draw attention."

More technology is being used to combat the problem: in some prisons, unauthorized calls and texts can be blocked. And some prisons have trained dogs to sniff out phones.

Better classification of prisoners has also lowered the number of escapes, experts said. Inmates in maximum security are locked down 23 hours a day. Inmates in a medium-security prison are monitored and escorted everywhere they go, whereas certain minimum security prisons, including fire camps in California, may not even have any type of fence.

The deterrent of being caught (an extra sentence, and a move to a more secure prison) is too great for the vast majority of non-violent prisoners in jail for a short time to attempt to leave.

Glitches in the system are actually the more common reason for convicts finding an early route to freedom, Reiter said.

"People are sometimes released too soon," she said. When the mistake is found, though, there's no leniency.

"They have to go back," she said.

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