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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Sherrods Tell Black Press Where America Must Go From Here

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By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Former Department of Agriculture Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod of South West Georgia, still reeling from the blow of an assault on her job, character and civil rights record last week, told the Black Press of America that she hopes the travesty of justice that happened to her will now help America move forward with racial healing.

She and her husband, the Rev. Charles Sherrod, a leading civil rights organizer, who actually marched and organized alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1961 and was arrested five times during the civil rights movement, spoke in separate phone interviews with the NNPA News Service. The Sherrods, who reside in Albany, Ga., reflected on the pains of the past as well as the meaning of the recent attack and how they have been long prepared for it. That includes Mrs. Sherrod having suffered the shooting death of her father at the hands of a Klansman more than 40 years ago.

The highly respected civil rights and racial justice work of this couple underscored the irony last week as she was forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack because of a distorted and edited videotaped version of a March 2010 speech to NAACP in which she was made to appear as if she had discriminated against a White farmer.

In a nutshell, Obama appointee Secretary Vilsack fired her without first hearing the context of the remarks. The videotaped remarks out of context were also condemned by the NAACP, whose president, Ben Jealous, later said in a statement of apology that they were “snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart”, the blogger who released the edited video out of context.

But, as the truth was revealed by the release of the full video, Sherrod not only received public apologies from Vilsack and an offer of employment back at Agriculture - an offer that she was still considering at NNPA deadline this week - but she also received a phone call from President Obama himself who she said expressed heartfelt regrets.

The heroes in the midst of the storm of criticism were the White farmer himself, 88-year-old Roger Spooner, and his wife Eloise, who appeared live on CNN. They rebuked all who had condemned Sherrod.

“I couldn’t believe it. She was unbelievably helpful in every way. She saved our farm,” he said. “This all here is a bunch of hogwash in my opinion. She was as nice to us as anyone could have been. As far as racism and all, that’s just ridiculous.”

In interviews, this week, both the Rev. and Mrs. Sherrod of Albany, Ga., give passionate reflections on last week’s painful controversy. They discuss their deeply personal wounds and where they hope America will go from here.

Interview with Mrs. Shirley Sherrod:

NNPA: How have you gotten through this? It must have been so painful knowing your family’s history and background and your husband’s history and background in civil rights.

Shirley Sherrod: It’s been the prayers of people around this country and my prayers and my family’s prayers that helped me to deal with this. But, you have to know that when you’re in the struggle, you deal with these bumps in the road. I’ve had to deal with so many difficult things through my life that it’s hard to even look at this as a crisis because I’ve had to deal with some for years.

NNPA: So, are you saying that in the context of all that you’ve had to deal with, that this is like a bump in the road?

Shirley Sherrod: Well, it’s been a big bump. But, I’ve had to deal with stuff for years…But, you have to do what you’ve got to do and don’t let it get you unfocused and just continue working.

NNPA: Is there anything new and different that the Obama Administration can do going forward pertaining to civil rights or Black people that you think was revealed during your situation?

Shirley Sherrod: Well, I think they’ve got to be willing to discuss the issues. I think they shouldn’t be afraid to discuss the issues because I’m a believer that if we can try to talk through things, we can probably get to a point where we can find some common ground to work from. But, if you continue to brush it under the rug and think the problem is over, it doesn’t go away and we saw that [last] week. And I think that’s what has happened.

NNPA: Is that something that you think the White House should initiate - a discussion or forum on race?

Shirley Sherrod: Well, right now I can’t say that’s where it needs to come from, but they certainly need to play a role.

NNPA: Were you disappointed at the NAACP?

Shirley Sherrod: Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. You know, yes I was. To be the brunt of their criticism - of all agencies - when you look at my work and it was the NAACP, oh my goodness. I’ve put in more years working, probably than, I don’t know how old Ben Jealous is…

NNPA: 37

Shirley Sherrod: Hey, I’ve worked more years than his age. I’ve been working 45 years.

NNPA: Of course they apologized, but even with all the apologies, it’s like where do we go from here as it pertains to race in America?

Shirley Sherrod: We have to discuss it. We have to make some attempt to deal with it. We can’t not deal with it. What are we leaving for our children who come along behind us? Are we setting up another hundred years of the same thing?

NNPA: Are you hurt that Andrew Breitbart has not apologized to you?

Shirley Sherrod: I probably don’t need to, you know. An apology from him, what will it mean? If he said it right now, I don’t think he would mean it. I think he would just be saying it because of pressure from people.

NNPA: You said on CNN that you thought that he would want to see all Black people back in slavery. In other words, you implied that you felt that he was a racist.

Shirley Sherrod: I know he is. It takes a racist to be able to do what he’s doing.

NNPA: When do you plan to decide where you go from here? Have you gotten any book offers? We saw you on The View. You are really out there.

Shirley Sherrod: I was telling my sister this morning that I guess everything I’ve done up to now prepared me for this. But, I wasn’t scared. I have four sisters. I told her it was just like sitting down talking to you all.

NNPA: So, how do you see the rest of your life? How has this impacted your life?

Shirley Sherrod: Well it has certainly changed because down here, people who know my work and my husband and my family, I go to the grocery store and I spend a little more time because I run into people I know and talk to. But, now that’s changed to everywhere I go. (Laughter). I’m here getting my car washed and the lady here, she is White. She just said, ‘I love you’.

NNPA: And we saw your reunion with the Spooners and that was so touching. They seem to be such a wonderful people. Do you plan to write a book about your life? Shirley Sherrod: Yes, they are. People have been telling me, who have known me for years, you need to write a book. And my standard answer has been, I’m working so hard that I don’t have the time that it takes to write a book. But, I’ve had text messages and I even got a FedEx yesterday from someone offering to write the book, the story. And I think I do need to do that. Yes.

NNPA: Is there anything that you would want to say that I didn’t ask about this moment to Black America moving forward?

Shirley Sherrod: I’ve never wanted the limelight. That’s just not me. But, if the things that have happened to me this week really help move us; those of us who live in this country to a better place where we can try to deal with the racial issues, the issues of love and togetherness; then I feel that everything that I’ve been through is worth it.

Interview with Rev. Charles Sherrod Sr.

NNPA: How have you handled what you and your wife have gone through the past week, given your history?

Charles Sherrod: Well, it’s not something new to have been misinterpreted or lied on by the press. We’ve gone through that for 50 years, so that was no surprise that a straight line truth is turned into a crooked lie. That’s a part of our training in the civil rights movement.

NNPA: But, did it surprise you at all in 2010?

Charles Sherrod: It surprised me because the nature of the beast is still the same as it was in 1961. It is still racists who control our economy and who control much of the cultural development in our country. And we know that they are the enemy in our fight. We fight with love, but we’re not a bunch of simpletons. We have been taught by this monster, whipped in place, told to stay in our place, but we’ve refused to do so. So, when you refuse to do so, you stand in danger of the wrath of the beast.

NNPA: Why do you think they were so quick to want her to resign before they even looked into the facts?

Because a race step in our society is unforgiveable. We know that people have died from it. And this administration knows that the eyes of the conservatives are glued on them and they are looking for any chance to pounce on the image of the President. And so they are being careful. He took a big risk in having the beer summit. And that evidently didn’t come out as well as he would have liked it to come out, just a simple negotiating, sitting down and love, peaceful – There were no armies at war there – seemingly. But, there were.

Our nation is based unfortunately on racist foundations. The people who accept the racist perspectives are not going to give up in a day; nor a week. I’m 73 years old and I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I started out as a child. But, this has taught me that this monster, this racist society, can change its moods, can change its forms, can maneuver, can throw a rock and hide its hand, can throw a rock and show its hand. When it has the power to do so, it does so.

NNPA: What can be taken away from this?

Charles Sherrod: It’s a lot to take in and it’s taken us years to prepare for this day. But, the good thing about all of this is that it’s before the nation. Just that it’s before the nation, it’s where we’ve always wanted it to be - the question of who holds the power in our society and is that power racist power? Is that power used to put poor people in one place, colored people in another place and White people in still another place? That’s a question of racism.

NNPA: This has catapulted this whole question, this whole race debate before the nation, but what do we do with it, where do we go from here, what can actually move us forward on this issue of race?

Charles Sherrod: We’ve taken a first step. The first step is to confront each other; look each other in the mirror, I as a Black person and others, whatever hues they are, whatever has made you what you are, sitting down at a table with somebody across the table on an equal basis. That’s the key. Can we talk together in our society on an equal basis, accepting all the powers that you may have with all the powers that I may have, sitting down and making a conversation? That’s got to occur all over the country though. And occurring all over the country means it occurs in newspapers, it occurs in magazines, it occurs in TV forums, various media groups like CNN to push it. Just about every one of their programs had it on. All of the media has got to do this. We all have got to do this.

NNPA: We’ve got to do it, but is there something more that the President should do at this point?

Charles Sherrod: Putting this weight on the President is like putting the weight of passing the health bill on the President. That particular weight was on both the President and the Congress. The President can’t make two steps with legislation without the Congress approving it. And there are many other things that the president can’t do without the Senate advising and consenting. So, the President has got to be open to discussions and to take the same steps as a human being that others in giant corporations need to take as well and the policies that these giant corporations with thousands of employees, open discussions in those groups as well. But, to say that the President has got to take a different step that I personally have to take is putting too much weight on the President. We’ve all got to take our steps.

NNPA: There are some who have said that he’s too timid and that was the reason that this happened to your wife in the first place was because of the timidity because of the knee-jerk reaction to anything pertaining to race instead of going deeper.

Charles Sherrod: Do you think that the decision to do that was on the back of the President when the President has got thousands of issues coming before him every day? Every day he’s got issues across the streams of our society that stop at his door. He doesn’t have to take care of all of those issues ...That’s why he’s got a staff of hundreds of people.

NNPA: Andrew Brietbart, that blogger, still hasn’t apologized. What would you say to him at this point?

Charles Sherrod: I’d say to him the same thing that I would say to millions of White people across the country – that we’ve got to move forward together. We’ve got to accept that we are human beings, that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes. We have grown up and the system has taught us certain things. And at some point when we observe the things that we’ve grown up with, that we’ve been taught – and this is the point where I’m hoping that we can get to this year, this day, this week – is that there are some things that we have to accept, but there are some things that we can tell ourselves that are wrong that we have done and we know they are wrong….

I’m just saying that we are a confused bunch because of racism in our society in the way that we’ve been brought up. So, we are messed up. All of us, we are messed up. I can’t forget all of the things that have happened to me. I forgive. I can forgive. I can say I’m not holding this in my heart against anybody. I wouldn’t hurt anybody because of the wrong that they’ve done to me all my life. But, I’ve got to accept that there’s something wrong inside of me that hurts; that’s suffering that begs for release. But, I’m not going to have it released in front of you to hurt you.

Some of those things I’ve got to deal with for the rest of my life. Things that White people have done to me; how they’ve hurt me. Things they’ve said to me face to face; the beatings that I’ve taken; the jailings that I’ve taken in five states. All of this is inside of me. I can’t just put it aside but I can decide who I want to be. Despite all the hurt that I have, I’m not going to hurt another brother.

NNPA: Has what happened last week added to that hurt?

Charles Sherrod: It’s added to that hurt. But, it’s also taken away and soothed that hurt. There is an instance in which the truth was twisted, but the truth got out as well. And it got out with the help of a White man and a White woman. Now that’s having a good week.

Black Church Group Criticizes California NAACP on Marijuana Support

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) Some Black church leaders are calling for the head of the California NAACP to step down over her group's support for the legalization of marijuana in her state as well as over alleged ties to the marijuana lobby.

Rev. Anthony Evans, president of National Black Church Initiative, and Bishop Ron Allen, president and chief executive officer of the International Faith Based Coalition took issue with an editorial California NAACP president Alice Huffman wrote in a popular online newspaper The Huffington Post outlining reasons why her organization supports California Proposition 19 - the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act 2010 - a measure that would make California the first state to legalize marijuana.

“The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal and we support that because we advocate health but those are prescribed by a physician and are prescribed for certain conditions,” Evans said. “But when the NAACP just says legalize marijuana we believe that it sends out the wrong message given that over the last 30 years we have lost over 200,000 people to drug-related crimes in the African-American community. How can the church be in the business of promoting illegal drugs? It just doesn't fit into the proper role of the faith community or an organization that came out of the Black church."

The reverend is calling on all of their member churches to publicly denounce the NAACP for supporting this legislation and he is also asking them to withdraw all monetary contributions and support for using Black churches for their meetings until Jealous repudiates Huffman and the California NAACP.

Evans said that his 34,000 Black church-backed group no longer believes that the nation's oldest civil rights organization represents the best interests of the Black family.

“How can they say they are for Black people when they are legalizing drugs that has killed tens of thousands of African-Americans?” Evans asked. “It makes no sense."

State conferences can independently take position on issues on which there is no national policy, so she and the California State Conference were within their right to do this.

"The focus for the California State conference is not decriminalization of Marijuana," said Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. "The emphasis is getting a handle on out of control and racially disparate enforcement strategies. And it's a problem across the country. For example, in New York City, Black children, are 20 percent less likely to have drugs in their pockets when the cops stop them, but they're 500 percent more likely to be stopped."

He said, "This is a very serious issue" that deserves more digging into beyond the controversy or salaciousness.

"The National [NAACP] just passed a resolution to study the issue more deeply because there is a high level of concern by Black leaders who are engaged with the crisis of the mass overcriminalization of our young people and about misguided enforcement strategies. And so we'll need to study this nationally to see where we should go," Jealous said.

Huffman's stance is centered on the decriminalization of a drug that unfairly penalizes African-Americans at a higher rate than other races.

In her article, published in The Huffington Post on July 6th, Huffman wrote that Rev. Martin Luther King was “roundly criticized by friend and foe alike for speaking out on an issue considered outside the purview of civil rights' leaders" for taking a radical stance against the Vietnam war in 1967.

"The California NAACP does not believe maintaining the illusion we're winning the ‘war on drugs’ is worth sacrificing another generation of our young men and women,” she wrote. “Enough is enough. We want change we can believe in; that's why we're supporting Prop. 19. Instead of wasting money on marijuana law enforcement, Prop. 19 will generate tax revenues we can use to improve the education and employment outcomes of our youth. Our youth want and deserve a future. Let's invest in people, not prisons. It is time to end the failed war on drugs by decriminalizing and regulating marijuana to save our communities."

Huffman cited Drug Policy Alliance report that supports the legalization of marijuana because African- Americans disparately represent 22 percent of California's marijuana arrests, a percentage that is more than three times the state's Black population.

"We believe whatever potential harms may be associated with using marijuana are more than outweighed by the immediate harms that derive from being caught up in the criminal justice system," Huffman reasoned in her article.

While the California branch of the NAACP publicly supports Proposition 19 the NAACP national chapter has not issued any public statements denouncing their state affiliate's position. In Evans' eyes, their silence means that they support Huffman's position.

"We have not heard that the National is denouncing them in any way," Evans said. "What we have concluded is that the national wouldn't allow their affiliates to do whatever they wanted because if they did they would have chaos."

He also implied that Huffman has receive money from pro-marijuana groups which has influenced her decisions.

Huffman denies receiving any money from pro-marijuana groups, according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite Evans and Allen's unsubstantiated claims, Huffman does have a well-reported history of allegations involving entanglings with her organization's civil rights agenda with the business agenda of her successful political consulting firm A.C. Public Affairs, Inc. For years, mainstream California newspapers have reported on suspected corruption of Huffman as the head of the California NAACP.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006 that Huffman received $100,000 in consultation payments from tobacco giant Philip Morris. The California NAACP, at the same time, opposed a California measure to raise taxes on cigarette companies. The national NAACP supported the measure.

Similar allegations were reported in other instances involving the California NAACP endorsing measures that Huffman's special interest clients such as AT&T and the pharmaceutical industry have pushed.

"The campaign payments to Huffman's political company, A.C. Public Affairs, come only a year after the firm was paid $330,000 in consulting fees by the pharmaceutical industry. In 2005, the state NAACP sided with the drug companies' position on two ballot measures," the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2006.

In 2008, The Sacramento Bee reported that Huffman and the NAACP together received more than $100,000 dollars from a coalition of Indian tribes while at the same time endorsing ballot measures that those same tribes backed.

The marijuana issue in California is just the latest split between Black church leaders like Evans and the nation's foremost Black civil rights leaders and organizations. The reverend is planning on challenging the NAACP on a number of hot button issues such as same sex marriage, which the NAACP supports but so do some other prominent leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and organiziations like the National Urban League.

He said, "We're taking a critical look at all of the civil rights organizations in making sure that they are standing to protect the Black family and the Black community, and most of these organizations are not."

Anger in Haiti Grows as U.N. Rates Earthquake Response as Good

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By Joseph Guyler Delva, NNPA Haiti Correspondent –

PORT-AU-PRINCE (NNPA) – U.N. officials in Haiti are saying that the response given by the international community to the devastating earthquake disaster was good. But six months after the earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people, survivors in makeshift tent cities continue to express growing discontent with aid relief efforts.

“I have four children and over the past two days I have not been able to cook anything to feed the children,” said 40-year-old mother Medgine Morancy, holding her 4-year-old boy outside her plastic tent in an overcrowded camp in downtown Port-au-Prince.

“We rely only on some neighbors who sometimes share some food with us,” Morancy said. “All we’ve been receiving is water, but we can’t live only with water … We’re dying of hunger”.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator and U.N. Secretary-General’s deputy special representative in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said U.N. agencies and other humanitarian actors did a good job with the limited means available in the aftermath of what he said was the worst natural disaster ever in an urban area in the world.

“I am not saying more could not have been done, but I think the response provided so far, six months after the disaster, was good compared to previous disasters in other parts of the world,” Fisher stated. The Haitian government said up to 300,000 people died in the January 12, 7.0 magnitude earthquake that sent more than 1 million people leaving in makeshift camps in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and in other affected areas.

U.N. officials said more progress has been made in Haiti over the six-month period than in the hardest hit Indonesian province of Aceh, following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“Six months after the tsunami in Aceh 700 temporary shelters were built. However in Haiti we have more than 3,700,” Fisher said. “In Aceh 14,000 people got temporary jobs through high labor intensity programs, while we have more than 200,000 working here,” he stated.

Fisher also mentioned the case of Kobe, in Japan, that was devastated in 1995 by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed 6,400 people and left 300,000 people homeless. He said after 5 years of recovery, it’s only this year Kobe is getting back to the situation it was before the disaster.

“And all that occurred in an industrialized country with advanced social and economic infrastructures,” explained Fisher, showing how difficult it has been for the poorest country in the western hemisphere to cope with the aftermath of the disaster.

U.N. officials said 1.5 million people have already received temporary shelters, 4.3 million have received food assistance and 1.2 million receive potable drinking water everyday.

According to the U.N., 11,000 toilets have been set up, 600,000 children vaccinated, 250,000 m3 of rubble have been removed, 1,700 school tents have been distributed and 80 percent of affected schools have resumed classes while 560,000 school children have received a hot meal.

Despite all these figures, many homeless survivors, like Morancy, have expressed growing frustration with the lack of access to some of the most basic living conditions.

Others complain about the unbearable heat generated by the plastic tents exposed to a burning sun in wide open areas, mostly without any vegetation to provide shade. Survivors also expressed concern about the current rainy and hurricane seasons that could cause another disaster if appropriate precautionary measures are not taken immediately.

“Here, it’s like hell. When it rains we are flooded, when it is sunny, the heat is killing us,” said Jonas Meridien, living in a camp near the national road #1.

U.N. officials said that 170,000 homes affected by the quake have so far been assessed. And about 30 percent of them are habitable while 40 percent that are seriously damaged can be repaired.

On top of the 3,700 houses already built, the U.N. announced the construction of 12,000 more as part of a plan to build 125,000 homes by the end of August 2011. The Red Cross separately plans to build 30,000 and has already started construction for the first 300 transitional houses near Cite Soleil slum in the capital.

The U.N. and the Haitian government have come under intense criticism from opposition parties and other sectors that blame them for lack of actions and absence of leadership in the recovery and reconstruction efforts.

But the U.N. and the Haitian government have rejected criticism that suggests that they have not been doing much to try to assist the affected population.

“Some critics would say we did not do anything, you can see it is not true,” said Fisher acknowledging that there is a lot more remaining to be done.

U.N. and Haitian officials have complained that international donors have not actually contributed funds pledged during the March 31 conference in New York.

The U.N. has recently appealed for $1.4 billion for this year.

The international donor community pledged $5.3 billion over the next two years as part of $9.9 billion aid package to help rebuild the country over the next several years. But officials say only about 10 percent of pledged funds have been disbursed and continues to trickle in slowly.

Explains Fisher, “We have received promises [of] $900 million, of which $530 [million] have been received.”

Rebuilding After Katrina, East New Orleans to Get New Hospital

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Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

(NNPA) - New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced plans to deliver a full-service hospital in New Orleans East. After renegotiating a flawed real-estate deal with Universal Health Services (UHS), Landrieu announced that the City will purchase the Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital site for $16.25 million - representing a cost of $23.75 million in savings for the real estate deal alone. Landrieu laid out a plan to renovate and open the hospital for a projected cost of $110 million - resulting in projected total savings of $53 million for the taxpayers.

"It has been nearly five years since Hurricane Katrina, and it is shameful that more than 80,000 residents in New Orleans East, the 9th Ward and parts of Gentilly still have to drive up to 30 minutes to an emergency room," Landrieu said. "I understand that this is a matter of life and death. That's why I've been so focused on putting together a plan that will give the people of the East a quality, full-service hospital as quickly as possible. And that's why it's so important that we put in place a hospital that is financially sustainable over time."

Landrieu also released his administration's Eastern New Orleans Healthcare and Hospital Report, which outlines a strategy to deliver quality health care in New Orleans East.

According to engineering estimates in this report, the full-service hospital is expected to open by the Fall of 2013, and an on-site ambulatory care facility providing emergency-room services will be completed in approximately one year. Mayor Landrieu and his team are in preliminary negotiations with a not-for-profit healthcare provider to operate the hospital.

During focus groups with physicians and community members held in the last 60 days, many expressed concern about emergency transport time from the eastern parts of New Orleans. To address this issue, as a new hospital and emergency room is being developed, the city will post an additional ambulance in New Orleans East.

Landrieu said, "We have laid out a comprehensive plan for health care in New Orleans East, from our vast network of primary-care clinics to a full-service hospital at the old Methodist site."

Landrieu also released his administration's Eastern New Orleans Healthcare and Hospital Report, which outlines a strategy to deliver quality health care in New Orleans East.

According to engineering estimates in this report, the full-service hospital is expected to open by the Fall of 2013, and an on-site ambulatory care facility providing emergency-room services will be completed in approximately one year. Mayor Landrieu and his team are in preliminary negotiations with a not-for-profit healthcare provider to operate the hospital.

During focus groups with physicians and community members held in the last 60 days, many expressed concern about emergency transport time from the eastern parts of New Orleans. To address this issue, as a new hospital and emergency room is being developed, the city will post an additional ambulance in New Orleans East.

Landrieu said, "We have laid out a comprehensive plan for health care in New Orleans East, from our vast network of primary-care clinics to a full-service hospital at the old Methodist site."

Congress Votes to Ban Cell Phones in Prison

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Inmates in federal prisons will have a tougher time using cell phones and wireless devices after both chambers of Congress recently voted in favor of a bill restricting their use behind bars.

Congress voted July 20 to close a loophole in federal law by restricting the use or possession of cell phones and classifying them as contraband. Officials said that with these devices, prisoners conduct a large amount of unlawful activity including credit card fraud, ordering gang hits and running drug operations. Currently, when inmates are discovered with the devices, the hardware is confiscated but the inmates are rarely punished.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the Senate measure, said a recent report found that correctional officers are the major culprits in smuggling cell phones into prisons. She said that in her state, inmates pay up to $1,000 for a phone. In one case, a correctional officer made $150,000 in one year just from selling the devices to prisoners, she said. according to the Associated Press.

With the new legislation, those convicted of selling cell phones to inmates would face up to a year in prison.

“It’s a simple process,” Ojore Lutalo, an inmate of New Jersey State Prison told NPR. “It’s not a big deal getting a cell phone. You have to understand that that is possible due to the level of corruption among the prison staff. If it wasn’t for their corruption, it wouldn’t be possible.”

Many officials agree with Lutalo and say that unlike drugs and money, cell phones cannot be smuggled through the mail and inmate visits because they would be picked up by metal detectors. “It’s a huge issue, and it’s a complex issue,” Bill Sondervan, a former Maryland prison official told NPR. “I had 8,000 employees in 27 prisons. I couldn’t be everywhere. And the way you really do that is through trying to instill in your staff that we’re all in this together.”

Prison officials have examined ways to block the phones’ service, but believe it may interfere with their radios and other critical devices.

In spite of the hesitation to implement ways to block the phones’ service, EDO, a Maryland defense intelligence company, was commissioned by the FBI to create technology that monitors cell phone usage, and devised a system that detects radio frequencies and notifies officials.

In addition to this technology, The (Salinas, Calif.) Californian found that many prisons across the country have enlisted cell phone-sniffing canines that can find stashed wireless devices as they do other contraband.

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