FCC Filing Highlights The Value Of Inbound Calls To Prisoners

meshDETECT inbound calls to prisonThe first round of comments on the FCC’s Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the reduction of the cost of all inmate calls are in. Here is one of the more interesting insights we have gleaned from those submissions:

The Prison Policy Initiative’s submission on advanced inmate communications services in prison discusses the very real need that these new services (such as the meshDETECT Secure Prison Cell Phone Solution) address:

These Services Address a Real Need

“These services are typically bundled with other communications services, and we rarely see them given much attention in industry bids for contracts. Surprisingly, we didn’t find many examples of the industry even bothering to explain the value that these services provide, so we will do so here:

Traditionally, there are only a few ways that incarcerated people and loved ones on the outside can communicate:

• By letter, sent by either party through the U.S. mail, with all of the delays that that entails.

• By visit in person, sometimes at great distance and sometimes arranged in advance, and always initiated by the non-incarcerated person.

• By telephone, always initiated by the incarcerated person.

These three avenues leave some serious gaps, namely that there is no way to send a timely message to an incarcerated person, such as:

• Your father just passed away.

• I was at home for your regular weekly call, but the doorbell rang right before you called and

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FCC Seeks To Kill Prison Payphone Site Commissions

FCC-prison-payphone-graveyardThe inmate communication services industry is being fundamentally reshaped by the FCC. Potentially more significant than its predecessor initiative, which significantly reduced prison payphone long-distance rates, the recently issued Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on key drivers of revenue and profit for these prison payphone providers and the prisons themselves.

With the two largest providers of payphone services owned by private equity firms, not usually known for embracing a shrinking profit model, it will be interesting to see how they push their investments to respond – both at the FCC and in the market. One potential bright spot is the increase in call volume achieved post LD rate reduction mentioned below by Commissioner Clyburn. However, with a limited number of payphones per prison facility and call length typically limited to 15 minutes per day, there is a natural cap on the call volume increase that can be hoped for to offset reduced rates and fees. (We do know of one way to provide enhanced access to communications and unlimited calling…)

The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on the following:

• Permanent rate caps on local, intrastate and interstate calling
• What level of cap would ensure coverage of the enhanced security requirements of inmate calling
• The elimination of per-call connection fees
Prohibiting site commissions as a category for all interstate and intrastate services but permitting facilities to recover any legitimate costs

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Skate To Where The Puck Is Going To Be

prison-technology-innovation-meshDETECTInnovation, 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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New Technologies In Prison

FCC-workshop-meshDETECTToday 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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Few Consequences For Texas Prison Cell Phone Smuggling

texas-prison-cell-phoneA 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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To Fight Recidivism, DOJ Requires BOP To Offer Cell Phones To Prisoners

BOP-halfway-house-cell-phoneThe Justice Department will require Federal Bureau of Prison halfway houses to boost services for inmates prior to release. The new rules also instruct federal work release facilities to provide cell phone access in order to help inmates seek employment opportunities.

Once fully implemented, these services will be available to every single one of the approximately 30,000 inmates who are released through halfway houses each year.

Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.

According to the new requirements, not just any cell phones will be allowed for use. Specifically the cell phones provided to halfway house prisoners must meet the following criteria:

  • Contractors managing the halfway houses must develop policy and procedures to monitor use of the devices.
  • The cell phone can be equipped with GPS to account for inmate location.
  • No resident-to-resident phone calls will be allowed.
  • Cell phones will be randomly searched, with all cell phones being searched at least monthly.
  • Cell phone photos inside the facility or on the facility property will be prohibited.

We applaud this move by the Justice Department

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Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs

Cell-phones-at-nightHere is the latest summary of recent news articles regarding contraband cell phones in prisons around the world. I call these periodic round up of news items, “Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs” because this is essentially what smuggled mobile phones in jails have become – a substitute for the current wall mounted prison payphones.

Convicted Killer Among Group of Prisoners Given Permission to Buy Mobile Phone:
A convicted killer is among a group of prisoners at an open jail given permission to buy a mobile phone.

Ten inmates at Loughan House jail in Blacklion, Co Cavan, were allowed to buy a handset late last week. And among the first to get their hands on the phones was convicted killer Nigel Kenny. He and the nine other inmates were told by Governor William Reilly that they could buy the Samsung handsets with a charger and €5 credit for €25 on Friday.

The programme is expected to be rolled out to all prisoners at the open jail over the coming weeks. Mobile phones have already been given to inmates at Shelton Abbey open prison in Co Wicklow… (source)

Romania to Implement Mobile Signal Jammers in Prisons to Curb Phone Fraud by Inmates:
Romania plans to implement a system that will jam mobile phone reception in prisons starting 2015, which should limit the number and use of mobile phones in prisons, but also corruption among prison employees.

The unauthorized use of mobile phones

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Managed Access Jamming Too Expensive Says MoJ, Investigates Demand For Contraband Cell Phones

managed-access-too-expensiveThe 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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Prison Budget Blues

prison-budget-bluesAs 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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Caution Advised On Managed Access Jamming For Prisons

prison-cell-phone-jamming-problemsAs 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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Why The Prison Payphone Industry Is Ripe For Disruptive Innovation

meshDETECT-disruptive-innovationA disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.

Characteristics of a Disruptive Innovation:

  • Its performance attributes meet the unfulfilled needs of an emerging market’s customers. These same attributes are not initially valued by the mainstream market, which instead value different performance attributes and initially see the innovation as substandard.
  • Emerging market adoption enables the innovation to increase its performance and to begin overlapping with the performance expectations of the mainstream market.
  • Awareness of the innovation increases as the innovation develops, influencing change in the mainstream market’s perception of what it values.
  • The change in the mainstream market’s perception of what it values enables the innovation to disrupt and replace the existing offerings in the mainstream market.

In the prison payphone industry, it is clear that the high call prices and low availability of the traditional wall phones in prisons and jails are not meeting the communication desires of detainees and their families. As a result, the demand for contraband cell phones has soared. Prison administrators, and the prison payphone companies themselves, have focused on

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Securus Continues Patent Offensive, This Time Against Ally Telecom & NCIC

securus-patent-suit-ncicContinuing 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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FCC Releases Order (FCC 13-113) Regulating Prison Payphone Costs and Commissions

FCC-cuts-prison-LD-payhone-ratesThe FCC has released its order (FCC 13-113) detailing the rules associated with the regulating of prison payphone interstate calling rates. This is the culmination of FCC Proposed Rule Making 12-375 (The Wright Petition – follow the link for to see the new proposed rates) in which the Federal Communications Commission proposed to lower rates charged to prison inmates for long distance telephone calls by considering changes to its regulations governing rates for interstate inter-exchange inmate calling services (ICS), after studying the issue for nine years.

The ruling effectively guts the per minute LD rates and one-time per call fees companies such as Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies can charge imates and their families as well as the commissions paid to Federal, State and County prisons.

The FCC claims that commissions are “not recoverable through interstate ICS rates because the record makes clear that they are not a direct cost of providing interstate ICS.”

It also sets the ground work for a similar action on intrastate rates. Relevant excerpts from the ruling relating to one time fees and to the payment of commissions to jails and prisons by the prison payphone providers are below. Securus has previously stated that it will go to court to stop the implementation of these rules.

As the prison payphone companies and prisons grapple with the challenge of recovering the revenues associated with this order, we suggest they consider meshDETECT Secure Prison Cell

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Australia Launches Contraband Prison Cell Phone Jamming Trial

australia-jamming-prison-mobile-phonesAn Australian-first trial of technology that will stop inmates from making calls from mobile phones they’ve illegally smuggled into jail has begun at a prison west of Sydney. The project trials the use of a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) to jam phones within the prison under the supervision of the ACMA and mobile phone carriers.

The DAS system will jam the channels transmitting mobile phone signals within the prison but prevent disruption outside the prison. Kordia has provided the DAS design which has been installed by an independent contractor under Kordia supervision. Kordia is now activating the jamming system into the DAS and will be running a series of tests to prove the system’s effectiveness and ensure mobile signals outside the prison complex are unaffected.

The jammers and accompanying distributed antenna system will be provided by chosen suppliers WiComm and Lan Installations for contracts worth $462,000 and $178,000 respectively.

NSW Corrective Services had to seek exemptions from the Australian Communications and Media Authority to conduct the trial as current legislation makes it an offence to operate, supply or possess a jamming device. Lithgow Jail is understood to be fit for a jamming-only trial due to its remoteness. If the nine-month $1.06 million Lithgow trial proved successful in stopping calls while not impacting on mobile phone use outside the jail then jamming would likely be rolled out to the state’s other maximum security prisons.

However, using jammers to block signals in Australia’s prisons is

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“Managed Access” For Prison Contraband Cell Phones Is High Maintenance

high-maintenance-managed-accessAccording to a recent article, managed access systems (MAS) are not plug and play. They require ongoing systems management and staff time. This means ongoing cost, in addition to the high cost and operational challenges of installation.

The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman was the first prison in the country to use the Intelligent Network Access Controller (iNAC), which blocks service for contraband cell phones inside the prison walls. Being on the cutting edge involved some learning, said Sean Smith, who heads the state’s Corrections Investigation Division.

“Our biggest misconception was the idea that it was plug-and-play,” Smith said. “It is not. It’s called managed access for a reason.”

The reason is that the system can require daily management to keep it tuned to the precise footprint needed.

It can take several weeks to get a system configured to operate within the required parameter. But the RF environment is not static, and additional adjustments can be needed on a daily basis. Signal strength, direction and penetration can vary depending on physical changes in the environment, weather and outside signals from carriers’ cell sites.


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