I can't be sure, but I have a strong suspicion that Governor Martin O'Malley's newfound concern for the use of illegal cell phones in prisons was sparked by Tricia Bishop's fantastic April 26th story in the Baltimore Sun with the headline "Murder on Call: The cell phone calls bounced from the drug-dealing streets of Baltimore to the city jail to a home in Rosedale to arrange the killing of a witness to murder."
In 2,000 words—a length unthinkable for most blogs or TV networks—Bishop expertly unspooled the complicated tale of Carl Lackl, who was killed because he had witnessed a murder and agreed to testify about it. Bishop carefully laid out the motivations and circumstances of each of the dozen or so characters in a rich, detail-filled story, which turns on cell phone calls made to and from an inmate at the city jail.
A week after the story appeared, O'Malley sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski asking for federal help to test technology that would jam cell phone signals from within city jails and state prisons to prevent witness intimidation and retaliation. The issue has since been catapulted into the national arena, and the Federal Communications Commision could act on the request in the next several months.
As I say, I don't know for sure what O'Malley's motivation was for taking action now, but Bishop's story certainly painted a vivid picture of how prisoner access to cell phones can prove deadly, one that convinced me, likely thousands of other Marylanders, and possibly even our Governor, that action was necessary.
As the Sun—and all newspapers—struggle with economic woes, layoffs, and potential extinction, it's worth remembering incidents like this, when an active, engaged journalist acting on behalf of the public good makes an indelible, positive impact on our lives. When the newpapers are gone, who will write (and publish) a story like Tricia Bishop's?
[photo courtesy GiantsFanatic via Flickr]