Cell phones a dangerous prison weapon, tells NJ corrections commissioner

Having three decades of practice in the criminal justice and financial management realms, Governor Chris Christie’s commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections shared his job experience with the Penology class of Dr. John Paitakes, professor of criminal justice, on Nov. 17.

On Wednesday morning, Dr. John Paitakes, professor of Criminal Justice, invited Commissioner of Corrections for New Jersey, Gary Lanigan, to speak to his Penology class.

“It was the highlight of my career,” Lanigan said. “I knew taking on this job would mean making a lot of necessary changes. Before I made any of them, I knew it was critical to tweak the mission statement.”

Being responsible for a budget of nearly $1 billion, 10,000 employees, 13 correctional institutions and 25,000 state-sentenced offenders housed in prisons, halfway houses and county jails, Paitakes decided that Lanigan’s visit to Seton Hall would be an interesting and knowledgeable one.

Lanigan said that one of the challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis is the use of cell phones in prisons.

“Cell phones are more dangerous in prisons than guns are,” Lanigan said. “Cell phones have been used by inmates and employees to intimidate witnesses, help out gangs and even commit murder.”

Even though the New Jersey Department of Corrections has banned cell phones, there is about one found each day in the custody of inmates, according to Lanigan.

The Department of Corrections ultimately wants to block cell phone reception in the radius of correctional facilities, but only the FCC has the power to do so.

“Many state governors are petitioning to have the FCC band cell phone signals so we can have this problem resolved,” Lanigan said.

One student asked if there have been any instances of corrections officers smuggling in cell phones.

“Absolutely, and they are immediately prosecuted for doing so,” Lanigan said.

Junior criminal justice major Christopher Cholewa asked Lanigan what the biggest issues are in terms of balancing the budget.

“Figuring out what we can compromise is the biggest issue,” Lanigan said. “Recently, we have eliminated roll call which consisted of an officer with a shift ending soon, letting the officer with the next shift know what is going on.

Instead of doing this in person and having to pay two employees, one now records it on a phone message. Cutting roll call has saved several million dollars.”

Brandon Quinones, criminal justice major, asked what the biggest problem Lanigan faces is.

Lanigan said “finding volunteers seems to be a big problem and even though it is a difficult task, it is insurmountable.”

He also said there are internship opportunities available for those interested.

“Don’t limit yourself to one particular career in criminal justice,” Lanigan said. “Don’t be afraid to make those moves that might guide you down a different path than you originally intended. Working in Corrections is the best move I made in my life.”

Students found Lanigan’s comments to be helpful, especially in terms of future career goals.

“Lanigan was very insightful and I learned a lot of new information,” junior Michael Betz said. “It really put a lot of things into perspective as far as what I want to do as a career goes.”

Paitakes invited Lanigan to speak in hopes the guest lecture would provide students with better information about the often misunderstood corrections department.

“I invited Commissioner Lanigan to comment on what he believes are key management/leadership qualities of a competent leader based upon his years of management in the Criminal Justice field,” Paitakes said. “I also felt that the public doesn’t have a good perception of the Corrections department so I wanted my students to have realistic information about the system.”

Kimberly Bolognini can be reached at kimberly.bolognini@student.shu.edu.

Author: Staff Writer

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