Innovation, especially technology innovation, requires a willingness to challenge accepted approaches to problems as well as entrenched industry “truths”. This nontraditional thinking is best captured by a quote from hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Back in June of 2011, we issued a press release announcing the introduction of the meshDETECT Secure Prison Cell Phone Solution. In the press release we said, “The meshDETECT™ secure cell phone platform devalues the contraband value of the smuggled prison cell phone and immediately creates a safer, more secure, and controllable environment for both corrections officials and detainees.” Since then we have written extensively about why contraband cell phones are a problem of both supply and demand. And about how enhanced access to telecommunications services has the proven, significant, additional benefits of reducing recidivism, improving detainee behavior and increasing officer safety.
This was not the conventional view on solving the significant and growing problem of contraband cellphones in prison at the time. In fact, many in the industry thought we were crazy for proposing giving detainees a “cell phone”.
However, according to the August 2014 issue of eTechbeat, an online magazine published by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC); the Indiana Department of Correction is now allowing inmates in two of their facilities to use cordless phones in their cells in an effort to stem recidivism
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Today I participated in the FCC’s Workshop on Inmate Calling Services Reform on the New Technologies panel to consider new and emerging forms of communications in correctional settings beyond the traditional wireline telephone call. Below is the text of my opening statement:
As this workshop is focused on inmate calling services and this panel is specifically targeted to new technologies, I would like to focus my opening comments on a new solution to the problem of contraband cell phones in prison that also provides enhanced telephone access to detainees and their families.
The very first payphone was installed in a Hartford, Connecticut bank in 1889; the first payphone in a jail was probably installed not too long after. Ironically, this same device, admittedly with very sophisticated back end controls, is still being used in prisons and jails around the world 125 years later; yet when is the last time you personally used a payphone? The reason for this? Cell phones.
As many of you maybe aware, contraband cell phones are a significant issue in prisons and jails across the county, and indeed the world. Over 15,000 were confiscated in California alone in 2012. In fact, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens has stated that, “Illegal cell-phone use in Georgia prisons has developed to “epidemic” proportions and is now the system’s greatest safety threat.”
There is no doubt that the use of unrestricted cell phones in prison is a serious
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A Texas Tribune investigation has found that few inmates or correctional officers face legal consequences for smuggling cellphones even as prison officials have intensified efforts to keep the devices out of prisons. Just 5 percent of cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General from 2009 to 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence, according to documents obtained from the office through a public information request.
Some notable excerpts from the article:
In 2003, legislators made smuggling the devices into prisons a felony. Since 2009, the state has allocated $10 million every two years for “security enhancements for contraband interdiction,” said Robert Hurst, a Criminal Justice Department spokesman.
The enhancements include a special K-9 unit responsible for sniffing out cellphones, increased video surveillance of guards and the addition of “managed access systems” at two prisons that intercept all but a few specified outgoing cellular signals.
The costs of the offender telephone service are “so high, that’s one of the reasons why inmates turn to cellphones,” said Michele Deitch, a prisons expert at the University of Texas at Austin. “They really need the phone access, which promotes healthier families, but at those rates it becomes an incredible burden on the families.” A phone call with the service costs up to 26 cents per minute.
For guards, who risk their jobs and felony charges by dealing in contraband, the financial reward can be much larger than their salaries.
“The temptation is there,
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The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice has determined that managed access jamming of contraband cell phones is too expensive and has commissioned “research to explore the use and demand for illicit mobile phones amongst the prison population” in order to facilitate the “development of a new mobile phone strategy to:
(i) manage prisoner communications,
(ii) reduce and control criminal activities and
(iii) reduce expenditure on equipment and the need for time-consuming searches.”
The aim of the study is:
1. To further the understanding of what drives the demand for illicit mobile phones by prisoners; and
2. To help identify potential effective ways of preventing their usage (excluding prohibitively expensive solutions such as mobile phone blockers).
To guide the analysis, the key research questions to be explored are:
• What drives the demand for mobile phones within prisons? How much is for maintaining family conduct and how much is for other more criminal purposes (including criminal networks, gangs, terrorism)?
• Are certain types of prisoners more likely to want a mobile phone and so drive demand in particular establishments?
• Which non-technical factors could be most effective (and cost effective) in reducing both the supply and demand for mobile phones in prison (including ways of counteracting the prison economy that surrounds the use of mobile phones)?
Maryland as an example
Let’s look at Maryland as an example of the managed access cost concerns prisons around the world must wrestle with when considering jamming technology.
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As states continue to deal with unprecedented fiscal strain, most are taking steps to reduce their inmate populations and costs while protecting public safety and holding offenders accountable. In the current fiscal climate, states are increasingly forced to do more with less and make difficult decisions about competing priorities. The National Conference of State Legislatures recently reported that corrections and public safety spending were above budgeted levels in seven states, including Alaska, where corrections spending exceed the state’s $258 million corrections budget by $9 million.
While funds to manage expensive prison systems have lessened, so too have resources for services such as treatment for substance abuse and mental health. For example, Minnesota lawmakers recently considered a significant reduction of funding for a model in-prison treatment program that has been shown to reduce recidivism by 25 percent. Thus, the viability of alternatives to incarceration programs and reentry services may be compromised in the current environment.
One out of every one hundred adults in America is incarcerated, a total population of approximately 2.3 million. By contrast, according to a report published in The Economist, the number of imprisoned adults in America in 1970 was only one out of every 400. The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 23% of the world’s reported prisoners. It is not clear, however, that these high rates of imprisonment are leading to safer communities. One study by two professors at Purdue University and Rutgers University has estimated
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As we have written before, managed access cell phone jamming systems being tested in prisons around the world have been deployed with mixed results. In addition to requiring ongoing management and investment post deployment, they have a spotty record and not all vendor’s equipment works as advertised.
Recently, the Cayman Islands issued a report on their managed access trial. According to the report, which is discussed in the article below, “The prisons service installed a cell phone jamming device at Northward in December 2009, but the equipment has never worked properly. A large communications tower next to the prison complex, which operates most of the radio station signals in the Cayman Islands, causes signal “bleed over” that interferes with the cell phone jamming device.”
In addition, the U.K. prisons inspectorate, which recently reviewed the Cayman Islands prisons system, advised caution for entities seeking to purchase phone jamming equipment.
“Many companies make claims concerning the effectiveness of various technologies or items of equipment, but the long-term independent verification is often difficult to obtain,” said Stephen Fradley of the UK’s prisons inspectorate.
Officials with Cayman’s prisons service said they have tried their best to implement cell phone jamming technology at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward, but funding concerns have blocked their efforts.
That is the response to a report tabled in the Legislative Assembly Monday regarding what Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams said was a failure
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Continuing its offensive of suing its rivals for patent infringement, Securus filed suit against Ally Telecom and Network Communications International Corporation (NCIC).
The five patents at issue are:
1.) United States Patent No. 5,655,013 (the “’013 Patent”) entitled “Computer-Based Method and Apparatus for Controlling, Monitoring, recording and Reporting Telephone Access” issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on August 5, 1997: A method and apparatus for managing institutional telephone activity utilizes a computer control unit to control a trunk management unit, which connects institutional telephones to outside telephone lines. The computer control unit contains a database for storing the calling privileges and restrictions of institutional users and for recording calling transactions made by the users. The computer control unit implements a prospective call screening feature whereby outside recipients of undesired calls from the institution may enter a code that directs the computer control unit to prohibit similar calls in the future.
2.) United States Patent No. 6,560,323 (the “’323 Patent”) entitled “Computer-Based Method and Apparatus for Controlling, Monitoring, recording and Reporting Telephone Access” issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on May 6, 2003: A method and apparatus for managing institutional telephone activity utilizes a computer control unit to control a trunk management unit, which connects institutional telephones to outside telephone lines. The computer control unit contains a database for storing the calling privileges and restrictions of institutional users and for
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