Tag Archives: cell phone service

Addressing The High Cost Of Prison Phone Calls

An interesting article tackling the contentious issue of prison telephone systems vendors paying per minute commissions to jails and prisons. In Louisiana, as in other states, the rate can be as high as 55% of the per minute cost of the call. According to the article, phone commissions are an important source of revenue, state corrections officials say. The challenge is to balance the need to find sources of prison revenue to fund operations in a difficult economy that has slashed state and local budgets while at the same time encouraging prisoner communication with family to reduce recidivism. As the article states, “it can be harmful to re-entry and rehabilitation goals if an inmate’s family can’t afford to stay in touch with him while he’s incarcerated.”

One strategy is to reduce the commissions, and therefore the cost of the telephone service, and offset this lost revenue by offering the new meshDETECT secure prison cell phone service. Many prisoners and their families would be willing to pay a premium to have the convenience and privacy a cell phone would provide their conversations. This will increase total revenues, reduce the contraband value of smuggled cell phones and offer more opportunities for prisoners to stay in touch with family and friends.

Every time a Louisiana prison inmate picks up a telephone and places a call, it’s money in the bank for sheriff’s offices and correctional facilities across the state.

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has received $10.2 million in commissions from vendors operating prison phones during the past three fiscal years, records show, and sheriff’s offices in Louisiana’s 64 parishes have received millions more.

For the most part, the money comes from the families of inmates — many of them poor — who pay the tab in the form of collect call charges that critics say are exorbitant, unfair and ultimately counterproductive to rehabilitation and re-entry objectives.

Now, the system is under scrutiny by the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates the rates that telephone companies are allowed to charge.

The commissions that vendors are required to pay sheriff’s offices and the state — as much as 55 percent of gross revenues — are a big factor in the steep phone charges, records show.

A local collect call of zero to five minutes from East Baton Rouge Parish Prison means a charge of $1.31 under existing allowable rates, with a 50-cent charge for each five-minute period after that, meaning a 15- minute phone call costs $2.31, records show.

Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the cost of 15-minute local collect calls from state prisons average $1.05, while intrastate collect calls average $5.55.

The charges can be a crushing blow for poor families trying desperately to stay in contact with loved ones behind bars, said Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.

“A lot of people think this is grossly unfair,” Campbell said. “This affects a lot of families in Louisiana.”

He recently prodded the PSC to hire outside legal counsel to analyze rates, examine regulations and compare them with other jurisdictions to determine if they are “just, fair and reasonable.”

Campbell said he tried to deal with the issue when he was a state senator but politically powerful Louisiana sheriffs blocked attempts to cut phone rates.

Cleo Fields, a lawyer who served in the state Senate with Campbell, said it was tough legislation to try to pass.

“Obviously, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill vigorously,” Fields said. “They felt it would be an infringement on their revenues. My argument is they shouldn’t use those types of revenues to balance their budget.”

Fields said the person being penalized is not the one who is incarcerated but rather the mother, child or other family member who is being charged the high rates.

Laborde said collect phone charges for the 19,000 inmates housed in state-run prisons in Louisiana are much lower than is the case for prison inmates in the neighboring states of Texas and Mississippi.

She said the local rate for a 15-minute inmate collect call in Mississippi is $2.85, while a 15-minute long-distance call is $14.55. In Texas, the rates are $3.90 for a local collect call and $6.45 for a long-distance collect call, she said.

Under its contract to provide inmate telephone services in state-run prisons, Global Tel Link pays 55 percent of its gross revenues to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

The commissions generated $3.3 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to figures provided by the department.

Although a small part of a public safety department budget that is $480.6 million this year, phone commissions are an important source of revenue, state corrections officials say.

Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said the agency has done everything it can to cut expenses short of closing or privatizing prisons.

“It would be a major impact to us if we had to cut $3.3 million from our budget,” he said.

LeBlanc said staff levels have been sharply reduced during the past three years and cutting corrections officer positions is not an option.

He said that means the ax likely would have to fall on services such as rehabilitation and re-entry programs designed to help inmates transition successfully back into the community. He said that’s not a direction he wants to see the department take.

“Our staff, from the bottom up, are committed to re-entry,” LeBlanc said.

He also noted that family ties are not always healthy and conducive to an inmate’s successful re-entry into the community.

“Family culture sometimes is not the best thing because they may have come up in a culture of crime,” LeBlanc said.

He also said money generated from phone commissions helps cover the costs of investigators who review recorded calls for security purposes, often generating useful information for the FBI, State Police or other law enforcement agencies.

Like the state corrections department, sheriff’s offices in Louisiana have also come to rely on income from phone commissions to help run their operations.

For example, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office includes $620,000 from phone commissions payments in its $79 million budget for this fiscal year.

Casey Rayborn-Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that the money goes into the sheriff’s general fund to help meet operating expenses, including such things as a crime victim’s assistance program.

The Sheriff’s Office’s agreement with American Phone Systems of Lafayette requires the company to pay 48 percent of its gross revenue to the Sheriff’s Office.

The contract is similar to that for other parish sheriff’s offices The Advocate examined. The same contract also sets the commission rate at 48 percent.

Michael Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, said the LSA doesn’t compile information on how much money sheriff’s offices statewide receive from phone commissions.

“I don’t know from parish-to- parish what it generates,” Ranatza said.

He said he wouldn’t speculate on what position the LSA might take on any attempt to eliminate commissions as a way of reducing phone charges that relatives of inmates have to pay.

“That’s something that’s not on the table right now,” Ranatza said. “We would look at the merits of any proposal based on what is presented and make a determination at that time.”

Curt Selman, chief executive officer of Payphones of Arkansas LLC and past president of a trade association for specialized communications providers, said phone systems installed in prisons have to be able to screen, record and block calls and must have other security features that make such systems more expensive than others.

He acknowledged that the commissions paid to state or local correctional facilities — sometimes amounting to more than half of gross revenues — drive up the costs for inmates and their families. But, he said, it’s a tradeoff because the money goes back into operating the prisons, reducing costs for taxpayers.

“There is some pressure from individual counties, states and parishes to get the commissions as high as possible and who can blame them? They are trying to run a jail and revenues are down,” Selman said.

He said companies bidding to provide phone services try to set rates at levels people can afford but also have to accommodate the requirements of prison systems that are trying to maximize the revenues they receive.

“Most of the providers of the service are not making outlandish profits,” Selman said. “Their margins are actually pretty slim.”

The PSC’s Campbell said his objection is to the tacked-on commissions that drive up phone rates and have nothing to do with the cost of providing the service.

Moreover, Campbell said, it can be harmful to re-entry and rehabilitation goals if an inmate’s family can’t afford to stay in touch with him while he’s incarcerated.

“You should do the human thing and let the man talk to his wife and children,” Campbell said. “It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.”

He said it is wrong to fund sheriff’s offices and prisons by “taking it out of the hides of the poorest of the poor.”

Fields said the current practices are predatory.

“We’ve got to take the profit out of prisons, period,” Fields said. “At this point, it’s profitable to incarcerate people. It should not be a way to make money.”

The phone commission system used in Louisiana is similar to that used in many other states.

A publication called Prison Legal News earlier this year found that phone service vendors, on average, paid state corrections departments 42 percent of their gross revenues from phone calls made by prisoners.

The report found that “pure, unabated greed by both the phone companies” and state prison systems controls the rates set for inmate phone services.

The report said that eight states have banned prison phone commissions — Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, South Carolina, California and Missouri.

Author: Greg Garland

Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Rikers ‘Cell’ Hound

Smuggled cell phone detection by a dog at Riker’s Island prison is the topic of this article. The article states that smuggled cellphones haven’t been as big a problem in New York as they’ve been in other areas. The reason is the generous policy on the use of land lines.

“New York state facilities charge inmates less for phone use and offer greater access than other states, said state prison spokesman Peter Cutler. That cuts the demand for the phones for all but hardened criminals, because those who just want to keep in touch with friends, families and lawyers can do so.”

This is another validation of our position that the problem of contraband cell phones in prison is an issue of supply AND demand. By addressing the demand for greater access to telecommunications services by deploying the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone service, prisons and jails can reduce the number of smuggled cell phones entering their facilities.

A new member of the patrol force at Rikers Island is poised to take a megabyte out of crime.

A dog trained to sniff out cellphones will soon be roaming the prison’s corridors searching for mobile devices, which are forbidden to inmates.

Inmates love cellphones because prison official monitor land-line calls — while cellphones can be used in the privacy of cells.

Prisoners have been known to use them to set up drug deals, threaten witnesses, keep running their organizations and even coordinate escape attempts.

Dogs love cellphones because they are a delight to their noses.

The dogs are trained to zero in on the lithium batteries, but they have also proven adept at locating other parts of the phones, including chargers and earpieces.

The dogs typically cost $6,000 and are on the job in several other states.

Cellphones pose a “serious risk to staff and inmates,” said Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Correction.

She declined to provide details about the dogs or their training — refusing even to disclose the name of the new recruit. She cited “security reasons.’’

Authorities said, however, that the canine will join the department’s team of drug-sniffing pooches.

So far, smuggled cellphones haven’t been as big a problem in New York as they’ve been in other areas.

In city prisons, 31 cellphones were confiscated as of mid-October this year, 37 in 2010 and 14 in 2009, according to the Department of Correction.

In New York state-operated facilities, 85 phones were confiscated in 2010.

Not all of them were taken from prisoners — many were found on staff or visitors, who are not allowed to bring them past the front door.

Another reason the problem is not as severe in the city and state systems is their generous policy on the use of land lines.

New York state facilities charge inmates less for phone use and offer greater access than other states, said state prison spokesman Peter Cutler.

That cuts the demand for the phones for all but hardened criminals, because those who just want to keep in touch with friends, families and lawyers can do so.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Inmate Visits in Arizona Require $25 Fee

This article discusses the new $25 fee charged to inmates’ visitors at the Arizona DOC facilites. In the article, Wendy Baldo, chief of staff for the Arizona Senate states, “”We were trying to cut the budget and think of ways that could help get some services for the Department of Corrections.”

We at meshDETECT have a better idea. Rather than charge families to visit inmates, why not offer a secure cell phone service that generates new revenues, reduces contraband cell phone smuggling and encourages enhanced communications between prisoners and their families?

Update (12/20/11): A Maricopa County judge has ruled that a one-time prison visitor fee does not amount to a tax and is constitutional.

The Tempe-based Middle Ground Prison Reform challenged the $25 fee in a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections earlier this year.

The group argued that the fee actually was a tax that targeted a vulnerable segment of residents and asked that any money paid so far be returned.

The judge sided with the Corrections Department on Monday, saying the fee is voluntary and in exchange for government services.

The money goes toward maintaining state-run prisons.

Plaintiff Donna Hamm says the ruling is a slap in the face to prison visitors who are saddled with a responsibility that should be borne by all taxpayers.

The group vowed to appeal.

Original Article:

For the Arizona Department of Corrections, crime has finally started to pay.

New legislation allows the department to impose a $25 fee on adults who wish to visit inmates at any of the 15 prison complexes that house state prisoners. The one-time “background check fee” for visitors, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, has angered prisoner advocacy groups and family members of inmates, who in many cases already shoulder the expense of traveling long distances to the remote areas where many prisons are located.

David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the fee “mind-boggling” and said that while it was ostensibly intended to help the state – the money will be used to repair and maintain the prisons – it could ultimately have a negative effect on public safety.”We know that one of the best things you can do if you want people to go straight and lead a law-abiding life when they get out of prison is to continue family contact while they’re in prison,” he said. “Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

One woman, whose brother is a prisoner at the Eyman complex in Florence, said that most of her family lives out of state, so the fee is an additional burden on top of the travel costs. “What will happen is that people will just stop visiting,” said the woman, adding that most prisoners “live for” visits from relatives. Because some friends of the family still do not know of her brother’s incarceration, she asked to be identified only by her first name, Shauna. She was one of several dozen family members of inmates who complained to Middle Ground Prison Reform, a group based in Tempe, about the fee.

In a lawsuit filed last month against the Corrections Department, Middle Ground said the fee was simply a pretext for raising money “for general public purposes” and as such was unconstitutional because it amounted to a special tax on a single group. Middle Ground has also filed suit over another provision of the law, which imposes a 1 percent charge on deposits made to a prisoner’s spending account.Donna Leone Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground, said she thought that state legislators created the background check fee “out of sheer financial desperation” at a time when the state faces huge budget shortfalls.”This was a scheme – in my mind, a harebrained scheme – to try to come up with the money,” she said.

Wendy Baldo, chief of staff for the Arizona Senate, confirmed that the fees were intended to help make up the $1.6 billion deficit the state faced at the beginning of the year.”We were trying to cut the budget and think of ways that could help get some services for the Department of Corrections,” Ms. Baldo said. She added that the department “needed about $150 million in building renewal and maintenance and prior to this year, it just wasn’t getting done and it wasn’t a safe environment for the people who were in prison and certainly for the people who worked there.”

Ms. Baldo said the money would not actually pay for background checks but would go into a fund for maintenance and repairs to the prisons. Barrett Marson, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said in an e-mail that it was the department’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. Although there have been some calls and letters from potential visitors inquiring about the fee and how to pay it, no complaints had been reported from inmates, Mr. Marson said. The department has not determined whether the number of visitors to the prisons has changed since the charge went into effect, he added. “Maintenance funds for our buildings are scarce in this difficult economic time,” he said. “A $25 visitation fee helps to ensure our prisons remain safe environments for staff, inmates and visitors.”

Ms. Hamm, the Middle Ground director who is also a retired lower court judge and married to a former inmate, said that an earlier proposal presented to a legislative committee would have imposed the background check fee on everyone who visited inmates, including babies and children. But in the end, the Legislature limited the fees to people over 18. The law also allows the Corrections Department to waive all or part of the background check fee in certain circumstances – for example, when an applicant just wants permission to telephone an inmate.

Ms. Hamm said that research by her organization could not find any other example of a state prison system imposing a fee on visitors.The Arizona Corrections Department, Ms. Hamm said, has run perfunctory checks on visitors for years. In its application form, the department requires visitors to provide their name, date of birth and a driver’s license or other photo identification number. Providing a Social Security number on the application is optional, and no fingerprints are required.

Another state agency, the Department of Public Safety, conducts free background checks for people who want to review their own records and who provide fingerprints, said Carrick Cook, a spokesman. The Public Safety Department charges $20 for criminal background checks of people who are hired as volunteers for state agencies, and $24 for checks on paid state workers, both of which involve fingerprinting. A fingerprint clearance card, required for child care and foster care workers in Arizona, costs $65 for volunteers and $69 for paid employees.

Shauna, whose brother is at the Eyman complex, said she learned about the fee after she filed applications for her brother’s son, a Mormon missionary in Kentucky who wanted to visit his father, along with a friend and two other relatives. She was told that the best way to pay the fee was electronically, through Western Union, but was unable to get the system to work, she said. She was then advised to send a money order.

Despite confirmation by United Parcel Service that the package had been delivered, the Corrections Department told her that the $100 payment – four $25 money orders for four visitors – had not been received, she said. Another $100 payment was sent, and on Friday – months after she began the application process – she finally got confirmation of the payment from the department. “I have now spent $200 of my own money to get family in,” she said, adding that it could take up to 60 days for the department to approve the applications.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cheap Prison Phone Calls Come With Glitch

This article discusses the potential pitfalls of VoIP prison local number services offering cheap jail calls and used to bypass long distance charges for prisoners calling friends and family. One mother is quoted as saying, “I’m not able to call my son. He has to call me.” With the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone service, not only are all calls the same price regardless of distance, but families can call their incarcerated loved one directly, if allowed by the prison.

Inmates at California’s state prisons have long complained about the difficulty and expense of making pay phone calls from inside their lockups to their friends, families and lawyers. There are services that offer cheaper options using Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP), but consumer advocates say there are some risks with these cheap jail calls.

Rebecca Allen of Richmond found out firsthand. Back in May, Allen paid $44 to sign up for one month’s service with “ConsCallHome,” a Florida-based business that advertises it can shave 80% off the cost of an outgoing prison phone call. Allen hoped it would help her stay in touch with her son, who’s serving time for a parole violation. “I’m not able to call my son. He has to call me,” Allen told CBS 5 ConsumerWatch.

But Allen says she quickly found out ConsCallHome’s VoIP system wouldn’t work for her son, partly because the system has to work in conjunction with the prison’s service provider, a company called Global Tel Link.

“I notified them (ConsCallHome) within two hours that I was not able to use the service,” Allen said. The company told her it would issue a refund, but said it was keeping a $19.50 set up fee. It’s now been twelve weeks, and Allen still has not received her remaining $24 refund.

Allen’s not the only one complaining. ConsumerWatch found at least a dozen similar complaints on line. ConsCallHome has a “D” rating from the Better Business Bureau. The BBB reported there have been 160 complaints against the company, the vast majority for service and billing issues.

Donovan Osborne, a representative of ConsCallHome’s parent company, Millicorp, told ConsumerWatch the company has many satisfied customers. She said the company’s contract clearly states it does not refund set-up fees, even if the service does not work, and that all refunds are at the discretion of the company.

“That’s outrageous,” according to telecommunications attorney, Bill Nusbaum, of the consumer group The Utility Reform Network (TURN). Nusbaum said while some VoIP systems like ConsCallHome don’t always work in state prison phone systems, “they don’t tell people that on the front end,” Nusbaum said.

Another problem, Nusbaum said, is that the pay phone system in the nation’s prisons is largely unregulated.

Millicorp’s Osborne said she couldn’t explain why it’s taking so long for Allen to receive her refund. “I don’t know if there was a glitch or not. The company was moving so it may have gotten lost,” Osborne said.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cell Phone On Cellblock Means Trouble For Inmate

Even a person with a long history of crimes committed wants to keep in touch with and talk to her children. This person paid to use a smuggled cell phone to call family members. Now due to being caught with the contraband cell phone, she will spend more time in prison. There is a legitimate need for meshDETECT’s secure cell phone service in prisons.

A woman serving time in the Accomack County jail who was caught with a cellphone will serve six months in jail on top of the almost-six-year sentence she was already serving for crimes committed in both Shore counties.

Yolanda Stines, 35, of Painter, did not bring the phones into the jail, said defense attorney Theresa Bliss. They were brought in by an inmate who was serving weekends and used by several of the women in the cellblock, she said.

She said Stines used the telephone to call family members. Bliss told the court that Stine’s family was there to support her, including the aunt whose checks she stole and cashed.

“She’s had an unfortunate history in every sense of the word,” said Bliss of her client.

“This is a security issue and a serious offense that puts people at risk,” said Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Brenner. He told the court about the woman’s criminal history, saying Stines has “two and a half” pages of arrests, beginning when she was a juvenile.

Some of the crimes he listed were grand larceny, conspiracy to rob, forgery of public records and burglary. Some charges are pending in other jurisdictions, he said.

“When you look at her record, there is only one place for a woman like her.”

When asked by Judge Bonwill Shockley if she had anything to say, Stines said she used the phone to call her three children in Pennsylvania.

“I don’t know what is going on with you,” said the judge, sentencing Stines to two years and suspending all but six months.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Phone Rate Jump Isolates Michigan Prisoners

This editorial on the increase in prisoner call rates in Michigan in order to fund jammers to block smuggled contraband cell phones contains some interesting statistics. Michigan’s 44,000 prisoners make 13 million phone calls — nearly 300 per inmate. It also points out that prisoners cannot receive incoming calls. With the meshDETECT secure cell phone service, they are able to receive calls from loved ones, while reducing the contraband value of smuggled cell phones.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is trying to lighten its budget problems by putting them on the backs of prisoners and their families. By nearly doubling prisoner phone rates, the department will collect an estimated $8 million a year for a special equipment fund. Another $3 million will go to the phone company as an administrative fee for collecting the money. Talk about easy money.

A five-year contract with Public Communications Services, effective July 1, increased phone rates for Michigan prisoners from 10 cents to 18 cents a minute for prepaid debit calls, and from 12 cents to 20 cents a minute for collect calls. Bottom line: The contract collects about 14 cents a minute per call — adding up to $11 million a year — for a special equipment fund that has nothing to do with the cost of providing telephone service.

Without special equipment charges, base telephone rates would drop to about 4 cents a minute — which is what inmates should pay. The special equipment fund was set up to pay for telephone-related security equipment, such as phone monitoring and cell phone detection. Now, however, prison officials say the department can tap the special equipment fund for practically any security-related expense — a move that would possibly violate state law, or at least legislative intent.

The contract is a sweet deal for the phone company — and the department — but not for Michigan’s nearly 44,000 inmates, who rely on phone calls to stay connected to spouses, children, other family members and friends. Organizers canceled a planned week-long phone boycott, but prisoners and their families are still steamed about the rates.

“They’re killing us,” said Darryl Woods, 39, an inmate at Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit. Woods told me this week that higher rates have cut phone calls among fellow prisoners in half.

With fewer visiting days, high gas prices and the remote location of many prisons, phone calls are especially important for keeping families together.

Corrections is collecting data on prisoner phone use before and after the rates went up. Last year, Michigan prisoners made 13 million phone calls — nearly 300 per inmate.

Inmates typically earn less than $1 a day at prison jobs. Most of the money for phone calls comes from families, either directly when inmates call collect or indirectly though prepaid debit calls. Prisoners in Michigan’s 32 prisons can’t get incoming calls; outgoing calls are monitored. Calls cannot exceed 15 minutes.

Even with the recent hike, Michigan’s prisoner phone rates are lower than those in surrounding states, said Russ Marlan, administrator of MDOC’s executive bureau. “We understand any increase will be unpopular, but we think these new rates are fair and appropriate,” he told me this week. “It’s appropriate that they (inmates) pay for some equipment that will keep them and our staff safe.”

It’s unclear how big a problem cell phones pose for prison officials, though a bill pending in the Legislature would make possessing unauthorized cell phones in prison a felony. At least 20 contraband cell phones were found in Michigan prisons last year, Marlan said.

Corrections is considering using the special equipment fund to purchase a variety of security-related equipment, including radios, security cameras and personal protection devices. Still, using the fund to plug holes in the prison budget is not what legislators had in mind.

Since 2008, Corrections appropriations bills have included boilerplate that requires the department to keep prisoner phone rates comparable to those on the outside. It also provides for special equipment costs, but legislators like Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, intended those for cell phone detection or other phone-related security equipment.

“I have some concerns about it,” said Haveman, chairman of the subcommittee on corrections appropriations. “… There’s a benefit to prisoners having access to their families.”

Haveman told me this week he would monitor how Corrections spends the money.

Excessive phone fees not only unfairly burden low-income families but also undermine the re-entry and rehabilitation efforts trumpeted by the department. Taxpayers should not have to subsidize prisoner phone calls, but neither should the state make millions of dollars on the backs of some of the state’s poorest people.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cut Off Cellphones In Prison Cells

This recent editorial on contraband cell phones from the LA Times advocates making the penalties for smuggling cell phones into prisons harsher. And perhaps tougher penalties for those guards and prison staff who are caught smuggling prison cell phones would act as deterrence for some. But with over 10,000 cell phones confiscated in California jails last year alone, it is unlikely a new law will significantly stem the tide of smuggled wireless phones into prisons. A new approach, one that reduces the contraband value of smuggled cell phones, is needed. By offering a secure cell phone service to prisoners, the legitimate use of these illegal phones, calls to friends and family, will be siphoned off. This will reduce the number of cell phones smuggled as well as the amount paid for them. The key to reducing supply is to reduce demand. The meshDETECT secure cell phone solution does exactly that.

It was bad enough when we learned in December that mass murderer and renowned psychopath Charles Manson was sending texts to folks outside prison walls using a flip phone that he kept hidden under his mattress. Now comes word that California inmates may be friending your kids on Facebook.

Officials at the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced this week that they’ve made an arrangement with the popular social-media site to take down pages belonging to inmates that have been updated since the owners went to prison. It seems that convicts are using contraband cellphones with Web browsers to harass their victims or issue threats on Facebook. Prisoners who set up Facebook accounts before being convicted are allowed to keep them, but if they’re updated while the inmate is still doing time, the company has agreed to take action.

That’s nice. But what’s to stop inmates from jumping to Google+ or Twitter? The problem doesn’t lie with the myriad websites where prisoners can go to plot violent crimes, conduct drug deals, order gang actions, plan escapes or engage in other mischief; it’s within the prisons themselves. More than 10,000 contraband cellphones were confiscated in California prisons last year, up from 1,400 in 2007.

A case making its way through federal court in Sacramento shows at least one way these phones are finding their way to inmates. Prison guard Bobby Joe Kirby is accused of collecting thousands of dollars in wire transfers from prisoners and their associates in exchange for smuggling cellphones and tobacco products into a correctional center in Susanville. Kirby is facing wire fraud charges, but in other cases in which guards or prison employees have been caught smuggling phones, they’ve gotten off with a slap on the wrist.

Two bills aim to solve this problem. The first, from state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), would make it a misdemeanor to smuggle a cellphone into a state prison, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. In one of the occasional logical breakdowns that characterized his tenure, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill last year because he thought it wasn’t tough enough — Schwarzenegger wanted the crime to be a felony. Maybe it should be, but it makes little sense to reject a measure that would at least make penalties stiffer than they are now; moreover, Democrats in the Legislature have wisely put a moratorium on drafting new felony laws until the state’s prison overcrowding crisis is solved. The other bill, from Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), would permit random monthly searches of prison employees for contraband. Both bills passed the Senate unanimously; the Assembly should follow suit, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign them.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cellphone War

The National Geographic’s Hard Time TV series most recent episode is about smuggled prison cell phones. It’s called Cellphone War and below are some facts from the show. The meshDETECT secure cell phone service addresses the legitimate inmate desire for family contact and therefore reduces the contraband value of smuggled prison cell phones.


Did you know that the ownership of a cell phone behind bars is prohibited in both state and federal facilities in the United States? Could you survive hard time without yours?

Cell phones allow inmates to contact friends and family but also gives them the ability to orchestrate crimes.

A system called Cell Hound is currently being tested to detect cell phone activity within prisons, allowing administrators to pinpoint the location of a phone being used.

Prison officials believe that the only surefire way to combat cell phone usage is to use signal jammers within the prison walls — an action that is prohibited by law.

Smuggling cell phones is a problem that occurs not only in the United States but also worldwide.
Cell phones can enter the system with the help of visitors as well as prison employees.

In prison, cell phones can range from $300 to $1,000.

One prison in Georgia is one of the few in the country that allows the use of a cell phone detection system. Its use allows officials not only to detect cell phones, but to find any other contraband that is stored within the device such as tobacco, weapons or narcotics.

Cell phone detection systems can differentiate between signals in “safe” areas and calls placed from inside designated off-limits areas, such as cell blocks.

President Obama signed a law in 2010 which makes cell phone possession a felony in federal prisons, punishable by up to one extra year on an inmate’s original sentence.

In the first four months of 2010, the Federal Bureau of Prisons workers confiscated over 1,000 cell phones.

States are stiffening penalties for officers who help prisoners get cell phones.

Texas officials claim they have the nation’s worst contraband cell phone problem, punishing inmates with sentences of up to 40 years for cell phone ownership.

Maryland and Virginia are the first states to train dogs to detect cell phones.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Smuggled Cell Phones A Prisoner’s Most Dangerous Weapon

This article is a discussion of the problem of contraband cell phones in Ohio prisons. Same issues as everywhere else with the same lack of solutions. However, a secure cell phone service is a solution to the contraband prison cell phone problem. With meshDETECT, the demand for illegal wireless devices is reduced, thereby reducing the contraband value of smuggled cell phones for those who supply them. That means less reward for the same risk and eventually supply will be minimized.

California prison officials have twice caught Charles Manson — the cult leader who masterminded a 1960s murder rampage — with a smuggled mobile phone after he chatted with folks across the country.

In Texas, prison officials seized a smuggled phone after a death row inmate called a state senator looking for help with his appeal.

And in South Carolina, after a prison official was ambushed at his home and nearly killed, authorities determined prisoners used a smuggled phone to organize the attack.

Smartphones, cellphones and other mobile devices are the most dangerous tools in prison, and officials haven’t found a way to keep them out, said Martin Horn, a former commissioner of New York City’s corrections department who now teaches at John Jay College.

“The purpose of imprisonment is to separate criminals from society, and these phones wipe that away,” Horn said. “You can access anything on the Internet, and that presents an enormous and growing challenge.”

In the first four months of 2010, Federal Bureau of Prisons workers confiscated 1,188 cellphones. Many state prisons also were overwhelmed. Guards in California’s prisons, for example, seized more than 8,500 smuggled phones in 2010.

That dwarfs Ohio’s numbers — about 100 phones seized in prison last year — but the trend is picking up here. Between January and May, Ohio authorities reported seizing about 100 phones, said Vinko Kucinic, the chief security threat investigator at the Ohio Department of Corrections.

How do the phones — considered contraband — make it inside?

• Friends or family of inmates stuff phones inside footballs and hike the balls over fences into prison yards for inmates to pick up.

•Visitors hide the phones in diapers a baby is wearing or in a body cavity.

•Corrupt prison guards bring them in, including a California guard who told state investigators he made more than $100,000 in one year from smuggling phones.

For guards, it’s a low-risk, high-profit venture, Horn said.

Smuggling cocaine or heroin to inmates is dangerous because if you’re caught — on or off prison grounds — you’re breaking the law.

But carrying a phone isn’t illegal to start with. And if a guard leaves a phone on a windowsill and an inmate picks it up, it’s often difficult for prison authorities to prove smuggling, Horn said.

Inmates often pay from $300 to $1,500 for a smuggled phone, Horn and other prison security experts say.

In Ohio prisons, inmates hide phones in hollowed-out books or secret compartments in their cells. They also hide shared phones in public spaces where inmates gather, Kucinic said.

How Dimorio McDowell — the federal inmate who ran an organized retail theft operation in Northeast Ohio from his New Jersey prison cell — received his phones or how he hid them from guards is unclear.

Prison officials at Fort Dix declined to answer questions, saying details could compromise security.

Many prison officials say it’s impossible to keep phones away from the 2 million inmates in the U.S. The solution, some have suggested, is to jam phone signals in prisons, making the phones useless.

But the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry says that would be illegal under the Federal Communications Act of 1934 — which prohibits blocking signals.

Mississippi found a compromise — managed access. A computer network there tracks all calls and texts coming in and going out of prisons.

If someone tries to use an unauthorized phone, calls and texts are blocked. In the first six months, the system blocked nearly 650,000 calls at one prison.

But managed access has its drawbacks, Horn cautioned. It’s expensive and, eventually, it will be hacked.

“Just because you’re a prison inmate doesn’t mean you’re stupid,” Horn said. “They’ll figure out a way to get around it.”


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

NH Inmates To Get Email, Downloadable Music

This decision is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it acknowledges that implementing in prison the technologies that are in common use outside of prison can reduce contraband, improve detainee behavior and guard safety; all while raising revenue for the DOC. We believe the meshDETECT secure cell phone service will accomplish the same goals. However, using our secure cell phones to access email or MP3s is operationally much more efficient and cost effective by not requiring expensive kiosks or detainees to leave their cells to access the services.

NHDOC Officials: Email Will Cut Down On Contraband From Snail Mail

The New Hampshire Department of Corrections said on Monday it had gone into business with a St. Louis-based company to provide inmates with access to email and downloadable music.

Corrections officials said the Keefe Commissary Network caters to the needs of its incarcerated clients.

“The (company) provides kiosks where inmates can access email and they can access things such as downloadable music,” said Jeff Lyons, of the NHDOC.

The company said it sells see-through MP3 players and other devices to the inmates directly for as much as $130 — 10 percent of which goes into the NHDOC’s recreation fund to pay for other inmate activities.

Corrections officials said the email component will cut down on traditional mail, and as a result, contraband coming into the facility will also decrease.

“(The amount of paper mail coming in) and things that are stuffed into envelopes or hidden under stamps or things like that will decrease,” Lyons said. “This will give us the ability to monitor the current mail that’s going out and coming in.”

However, officials said inmates will still not have access to most of the Internet.

“The (program) is just another tool that we can use to enhance safety, at the same time giving the inmates activity they can do when they are not in their programs and treatment,” Lyons said.

The program received mixed reactions from the public.

“If there is a benefit for the (inmates) in the way of an improvement, I would agree with it. But at this point in time, I can’t see it,” said Andover resident Harvey Best.

“(Email and downloadable music) seem like a privilege the common man may not have, so I don’t see why a prisoner would be able to have it,” said Concord resident Laura Jones.

The NHDOC said there is no cost to the taxpayer for the program.


Like it? Share it! facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail