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Investigators eventually found the jerry-rigged computers, which inmates had used to commit identity and credit card theft, hidden on pieces of plywood stashed above the ceiling tiles of a conveniently located storage closet.

Inmates at Ohio Prison Secretly Built Computers, Used Them for Crimes

For over three months, five inmates in Ohio’s medium-security Marion Correctional Institution tapped into the prison’s network to run two computers they had built piecemeal from parts scavenged from a nonprofit group’s job training program. The program teaches inmates how to disassemble and recycle outdated computer equipment as part of Marion’s “Green Initiative” program.

The inmates installed ethernet cable and tapped into a hub on the prison’s network. They also loaded more than two dozen hacking programs to sidestep network safeguards and access prison records, and went online to search inmate disciplinary and sentencing records, find inmate locations, and create passes to gain entrance to restricted areas within the prison.

Using imaging software, they secretly copied the hard drive from a training computer for inmates to power their homemade machines and sign on to the prison’s computer system, using login information belonging to a retired corrections official who had gone part-time on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ORCD) payroll.

According to a 50-page report released by the Ohio Inspector General’s Office on April 12, the inmates, most of whom were serving life sentences, used the home-brew computers to conduct a variety of criminal activities. These included identity theft (stealing personal identification of an inmate in another prison) and credit card fraud (they applied for five new credit cards in the name of the prisoner whose name, date of birth and Social Security number they had stolen).

They also accessed the internet to access pornography, recipes for making drugs, and information useful for other crimes. For instance, they used a Bloomberg article on tax fraud as a guide for attempts to file false refund claims in the names of others and get the refunds sent electronically to debit cards.

While the state Inspector General’s report appeared just recently, the events it described actually occurred several years earlier. The report faults prison officials for failing to make required notifications to the governor, the state highway patrol, and the inspector general’s office after computer security software alerted ORCD officials it had detected unusually heavy use of its system by one user — the ex-Marion training officer who formerly supervised the prison’s Green Initiative program and was now working part-time for the ORCD.

When the prison noted that the days of his heaviest use did not match up with his actual work schedule, the warden and an investigator there suspected that meant prisoners were making unauthorized use of prison computers, but failed to report that. The Inspector General’s report also identified numerous other lapses in the prison’s security practices.

After about a month of searching, the prison’s investigation traced the computers’ port number to a network switch near the room where inmates received computer training from the local nonprofit group. They eventually found the jerry-rigged computers hidden on pieces of plywood stashed above the ceiling tiles of a conveniently located storage closet.

The inmates involved in the caper were dispersed to other prisons. The Ohio Inspector General told a computer publication the inmates’ scheme reminded him of “an episode of Hogan’s Heroes,” but added it also seemed unlike anything “you’d think would happen in today’s correctional facilities.”

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington PostNew York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and Prisonerresource.com.

About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, a writer currently incarcerated at FCC Petersburg (Medium), is an impassioned and active prison education advocate, a legal commentator, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and prison law articles. While living in federal prison at various security levels, retaliations for his activism have earned him long stretches in solitary, or "the hole." While in prison, he has earned numerous academic, legal, and ministerial credentials. Christopher is very knowledgeable about prison-related legal issues, prison policy, federal regulations, and case law. He is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014) and thePrison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016).The Federal Prison Handbook is an IndieReader Discovery Awards winner. A regularly featured contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News, the nation's most prominent prison law publication, Christopher has enjoyed significant media exposure through appearances with the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, Vice.com, Salon.com, In These Times, The Jeff McArthur Show, The Simi Sara Show,TheCommentary.ca, 88.9 WERS' award-winning "You Are Here" radio segment, and The Examiner. Other articles and book reviews appeared in The New York Journal of Books, the Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Midwest Book Review, Basil and Spice, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, AND Magazine, Truth-Out.org, Rain Taxi, and the Education Behind Bars Newsletter, with content syndicated by the Associated Press, Google News, and Yahoo News. He established three websites: PrisonEducation.com, PrisonerResource.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com, and was a former editor of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter. In 2011, his fiction won two PEN American Center Prison Writing Awards for a screenplay and a short story. He taught a popular course on writing and publishing to over 100 fellow prisoners. Today Christopher is successfully working on a Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Business/Law) from Adams State University. Following his 2016 graduation, he plans on attending Adams State University's MBA program. He regularly advises fellow prisoners and prison consultants about legal issues and federal regulations governing the Federal Bureau of Prisons operations. Upon release he plans to attend law school and become a federal criminal defense attorney. Christopher will not allow incarceration to waste his years or halt the progress of his life. He began his prison terms as a confused kid who made poor decisions but is today determined to create a better life. "We can't let the past define us," he says. "We have to do something today to make tomorrow what we want it to be."

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