CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Who Needs Cell Phones When You Can Use the Toilet?

From  Inventive inmates at facilities around the country speak jail cell-to-jail cell using their commodes, a phenomenon known to wardens, correctional officers and attorneys as "toilet talk."

Some toilet talk is mundane. A pair of inmates might call out chess moves. Some prisoners have used the sewage pipes as a conduit to pick up prisoners of the opposite sex. And in at least two cases, inmates have had commode conversations about criminal matters that were used as testimony or evidence in court.

"Inmates will strike up a conversation about anything," said the warden, who can hear muffled chatter through the water in his office's commode all the time. "They have 24/7 to think of ways to beat the system."

Mr. Rustin said he does not consider toilet chat a significant security risk and he could not imagine sticking his head in the commode to overhear what are mostly throwaway conversations.

But the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia thought differently and got the FBI to wiretap the toilets at the city's downtown Federal Detention Facility to track members of a drug trafficking operation. Richard Manieri, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office, said federal prosecutors used toilet conversations to secure hefty sentences against co-defendants Kaboni Savage and Dawud Bey. Federal agents tapped the prison plumbing system and got a recording of Mr. Bey threatening to kill witnesses who might testify against prisoners charged for their involvement in the drug network.

Communication through toilets and air vents is fairly common in jails and prisons, according to several correctional officials surveyed.

It's been reported to occur daily at the high-rise, maximum-security Multnomah County Detention Center in Oregon and inmates in California's San Quentin State Prison, in California, used decades ago it to pass the time in solitary confinement. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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