Spotting Patterns In Calls From Jail

A few years ago, as a consultant to Securus, I was responsible for the development and launch of a brand new line of business for Securus focused on the profitable delivery of integrated justice information combined with unique analytical and heuristic tools to facilitate the investigative process of criminal investigators at the federal, state and local level.

The service was called “Electronic Dragnet” and its purpose was to enhance detectives’ crime fighting efforts and increase their conviction rate through the provision of an investigation and crime analysis portal which provided access to a unique and comprehensive set of data (primarily prison phone call information) combined with integrated, proprietary tools to recognize patterns and collect evidence.

Securus’s recent purchase of DirectHit Systems, Inc, the developer of the Threads phone analysis tool, is a clear continuation of that strategy. The article below discusses how a jail in Iowa will be deploying this software as part of its current contract with Securus Technologies.

A major concern in the use of contraband cell phones in prison is the fact that the call content, and associated call data, is not being captured. Now this data can be captured by replacing smuggled cell phones with a secure prison cell phone solution such as meshDETECT that records and stores this critical information for use by law enforcement.

Starting soon, inmates at the Polk County jail will have to pay an extra 15 cents per telephone call to help investigators dig up information on the inmates and their friends.

Polk’s Board of Supervisors voted this morning to approve the purchase of a new, roughly $75,000 add-on to the telephone system used at the Polk County Jail.

A proposed amendment to the county’s contract with Texas-based Securus Technologies Inc. would let the company sell Polk access to Threads, a new so-called “pointer” system used to find patterns in massive amounts of calling data.

Language in the proposed contract amendment calls Threads “a powerful, easy to use, intuitive tool that will automatically analyze investigative data, such as inmate communication records, public phone records and data from confiscated cell phones to generate focused leads for investigators, including suspicious calling patterns, inner circles, communication events to numbers on a bounce list, associations between multiple inmates and their correlation to called parties.”

Frank Marasco, director of the sheriff department’s Office of Planning and Development, send the new software is intended mainly to help with investigations but that it also would help with certain jail security concerns.

“It’s more of a crime-fighting tool outside the jail,” Marasco told supervisors this morning. “It can connect circles of crime.”

Telephones at the Polk County Jail long have been something less than private. The jail phone system requires that money for calls be placed on an account and that inmates punch in a unique eight- to 10-digit personal identification number when making their calls.

Calls routinely are recorded – “for security purposes,” according to a handbook handed out to inmates at the jail. But efforts to monitor those recordings sometimes have been hampered by inmates who, in exchange for other favors, have traded PIN numbers and essentially placed calls under other names.

County officials say inmates also have been known to call a friend at the same time as a criminal associate and have the friend patch both calls together.

The new system won’t stop that behavior, but it will make it easier to catch.

A Threads website says the software, which maps calling patterns, “uncovers witness tampering, pinpoints outside criminal organizations being run from prison and identifies individuals in the community facilitating calls between inmates.”

The entire cost of the software will be borne by adding 15 cents to the cost of an inmate phone call. Marasco said Polk inmates will still pay less than $2.50 for a 20-minute phone call, which is roughly the national average.

County records show inmates at the Polk County Jail made 498,678 phone calls in the year that ended June 30. The county sent roughly $516,000 to Securus during that same period.

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