Tag Archives: cell phones

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 security risk in that some of the use is for criminal activity, however it has been shown that the vast majority of contraband cell phone use is by detainees seeking more frequent and affordable interaction with family and loved ones. Interaction that is now severely restricted by the limited number and shared use of prison payphones.

We believe that contraband cell phones are a problem of both supply and demand. Due to the demand for cell phones in prison, there is an active and highly lucrative pipeline of supply. Most prison administrations have focused on restricting the supply of contraband cell phones through detection, jamming and search. However, like the problem of drug smuggling, without addressing the demand for contraband, the problem will never be solved.

We have developed a solution, called meshDETECT, which helps to reduce the demand for contraband cell phones by siphoning off the legitimate desire for more frequent telephone access between detainees and their loved ones. meshDETECT is a secure prison cell phone solution that gives detainees highly customized cell phones with all the security and control features of prison payphones. This allows those detainees whose only desire is for legitimate, non-criminal contact with family to use wireless technology safely and securely.

By siphoning off and co-opting this non-criminal wireless usage, we significantly reduce the overall demand for contraband cell phones and therefore the profitability for those smuggling these devices. Less financial reward for cell phone smugglers changes the risk/reward equation and makes it much less appealing given the high personal and professional risk for those caught smuggling.

In addition to reducing the demand for, and therefore the supply of, contraband cell phones, enhanced access to telecommunications services has the proven, significant, additional benefits of reducing recidivism, improving detainee behavior and increasing officer safety.

Eventually all technology trends breach the prison walls. In fact, the Department of Justice recently mandated that Federal Bureau of Prison Halfway House detainees be given controlled access to cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family. With meshDETECT, all deserving detainees can benefit from wireless technology, safely and securely.

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Mobility In Corrections

GTL-copies-meshDETECTWe post this summary of Global Tel*Link’s upcoming presentation “Mobility In Corrections” at the Corrections Technology Association (CTA) 2013 Annual Technology Summit, without comment…

It is a question of when, not if, are secure mobile phones and/or tablets are used by inmates in a correctional setting. There are natural applications for the use of secure mobile phones include; telephone calls, video calls, music and email using the embedded capabilities of today’s mobile phones. Additional applications could include secure text messaging. What if tablets were introduced to inmates? The potential for positive use is greatly enhanced when considering education and training curriculum is downloaded to the tablet. Administrative functionality such as commissary ordering or kites is also within the realm of possibilities.

Clearly, technology is available to integrate all of these applications and more on today’s mobile phones and tablets. The larger question, though, is what are the security and policy implications from introducing mobility in corrections? Could the phones be used as weapons, trade and/or commerce? Are all inmates eligible to use a mobile phone or just select inmates? Are inmates required to purchase a mobile phone or tablet or are they provided at no cost to the inmate? What are the infrastructure requirements for supporting mobile phones such as power outlets for recharging? What types of batteries are required so as not to thwart drug sniffing dogs? Are there additional revenue generating opportunities for correctional facilities such as a limited selection of downloadable movies the inmates may rent? How do these offerings co-exist in an environment where contraband cell phones are not permitted?

A workshop to openly discuss the questions above and many more is the purpose of this overview and discussion. Technology, however, cannot function alone without well thought out policy and guidelines. The potential exists to enable the simultaneous missions of incarceration, rehabilitation and reduced recidivism while ensuring the safety of staff, the inmates and the outside world. Through a successful partnership between corrections and the private sector, these challenges can be achieved.

Source (Page 20)

(For more information on this strategy, see our whitepaper “Reducing the Demand for Contraband Cell Phones in Correctional Facilities” which can be accessed by clicking on the download link to the right.)

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Dogs Trained To Sniff Out Cell Phones

A news report about smuggled cell phone sniffing dogs used in the Arizona Department of Corrections. Highlights from the report include:

  • The dogs spend 9 weeks — 320 hours — learning how to detect cell phones.
  • Contraband wireless phones that can be bought for as little as $40 on the outside go for as much as $800-1,200 on the inside. They’re smuggled in by friends and family during visits, by staff, even purchased during work detail.
  • The dogs are taught to locate and alert DOC officers to four distinct chemicals found in cell phones — ferric chloride, used to etch circuit board, rosin, promotes soldering, epoxy, used to fabricate the printed circuit board and lithium ion, gas from the battery.
  • One dog is stationed in every Arizona state prison, except the Phoenix facility, which is much smaller than the others.


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CDCR To Block Prison Cell Phones Via Managed Access Jamming System

The CDCR recently issued a bid for its inmate telephone services and made the installation of wireless managed access jamming systems in its prisons a requirement for the bidders. Global Tel*Link (GTL) has won that bid and will therefore be bearing the cost of installing these systems. Given the high cost of this selective jamming technology and GTL’s commitment not to raise the cost of calls for prisoners, either the CDCR is taking a much lower commission on the calls or GTL is taking a haircut on its profits.

Managed access has previously been installed at the Parchman correctional facility in Mississippi. Although the jamming system has blocked most contraband cell phone usage, there have been some noteworthy breaches.

Update (4/18/12):Global Tel expects to have the blocking technology running at the California State Prison in Solano by the end of the year and at all prisons within three years.

The state won’t share in the profits Global Tel makes from the collect calls, but the company will pay an estimated $1 million for implementation and installation at each of the state’s 33 prisons.

Global Tel will also pay an $800,000 annual fee to the California Technology Agency for the contract, and the agency will make sure the Mobile, Ala.-based firm doesn’t hike calling rates, according to the contract.

The deal will mean slightly lower rates for collect calls than prisoners currently pay. A 15-minute local call will cost $1.50, while a 15-minute in-state, long-distance call will cost about $2, a decrease of a penny a minute. A 15-minute interstate call will cost $6.60, a decrease of nearly 22 cents a minute.

Update (5/9/12): the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) released a report today advising the State of California to use security screening systems, similar to those in airports, in state prisons before investing millions in the untested MAS technology intended to block calls by inmates from contraband cell phones.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) today announced a “groundbreaking and momentous” contract awarded to Global Tel*Link (GTL) designed to eliminate the contraband cell phone use by inmates.

Under the contract, GTL will also provide the Inmate/Ward Telephone System (IWTS) for inmates to make domestic and international calls from an authorized phone network.

“Inmates have used cell phones to commit more crimes, organize assaults on staff, and terrorize victims,” CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said. “This groundbreaking and momentous technology will enable CDCR to crack down on the potentially dangerous communications by inmates.”

Managed Access technology uses a secure cellular umbrella over a specified area blocking unauthorized cellular communication transmissions, such as e-mails, texts, phone calls, or Internet access.

Implementation of the Managed Access System will come at no cost to taxpayers. GTL is responsible for all implementation costs, including new installation of equipment and services, as well as the costs of operating this technology at CDCR institutions. GTL, in return, receives the revenue generated from the ITWS services.

CDCR anticipates the Managed Access System to be operational at its first institution by the end of the year with other institutions to follow.

The Federal Communications Commission supports Managed Access technology as a lawful means to effectively stop the use of contraband cell phones in prisons.

In October 2011, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed Senate Bill (SB) 26 (Padilla) into law. Under SB 26 it is a misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $5,000 per device, for possessing or attempting to introduce an unauthorized cell phone in a prison. The misdemeanor prosecution and fines apply to staff, contractors and visitors. Penalties for inmates include up to 90 days loss of good-time credits.

SB 26 prohibited the company from raising rates for collect calls on the Inmate/Ward Telephone System. In fact, called parties will realize a reduced rate under the new contract. The new IWTS will provide additional enhancements including multiple payment options for inmates and their families. The California Technology Agency, which owns and administers the contract, will monitor service to ensure there are no additional charges applied to calls.

In 2011, CDCR tested the Managed Access technology at two institutions. The test was conducted over an 11-day period for approximately eight hours a day. During the test, the equipment detected a total of 2,593 unique wireless devices. The equipment blocked more than 25,000 unauthorized communication attempts, such as calls, texts, emails, and efforts to log on to the Internet from a smart phone.

In 2007, CDCR staff discovered nearly 1,400 contraband cell phones. In 2008, it was 2,800; in 2009, 6,995; in 2010, approximately 10,760; in 2011, more than 15,000; and to date this year, 2,181 contraband cell phones have been discovered in prisons and Conservation Camps.


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Contraband Prison Cell Phones On The Rise In Canada

The challenge in reducing prison contraband, whether it is smuggled cell phones or drugs, is addressing not only the supply, but the demand for the contraband. As noted in the article below, “spending on substance abuse programs has fallen to $9 million from $11 million in the past two years. The demand is there, the need is there and we’re seeing much of that need being unmet.”

Just as there are substance abuse programs in prison to reduce the demand for drugs, there must be a demand-side strategy to address the desire for contraband cell phones. With meshDETECT, the prisoner desire for more communication with family is met in a secure and compliant manner.

Cocaine, alcohol, explosives, knives and handcuff keys are part of the haul at federal prisons as officials across the country struggle with a rising tide of contraband.

Between 2007 and 2011, the amounts of drugs, intoxicants, weapons and other unauthorized items confiscated by prison staff has steadily risen, in some cases by more than 170 per cent, according to documents obtained by the Star.

The number of seizures of intoxicants, for example — LSD, THC, amphetamines and steroids, to name just a few — rose to 1,779 in 2010-11, up from 1,295 three years earlier.

Similarly, the number of seizures of weapons, including razor blades, homemade knives, firearms, explosives and pipes, rose by 22 per cent to 900 over the same period.

Perhaps most striking is the surge in seizures of other unauthorized items, such as cellphones, tattoo-making materials, lock picks and rope, from 991 to 2,697.

What the numbers don’t say is whether the amount of contraband items smuggled into prisons is increasing or whether a recent push by the government to intercept these materials is paying off.

“I suspect that detection is getting better, so you do see an increase in seizures,” said Howard Sapers, Canada’s Correctional Investigator. “What we really don’t know is whether drug use inside prisons is up or down, whether the presence of weapons is greater or lesser than it used to be.”

In August 2008, the federal government pledged $122 million over five years in an effort to eliminate drugs from federal prisons. The funding went toward purchasing additional security equipment, such as drug ion scanners and X-ray machines, increasing the number of drug-detecting dog teams, and was intended to improve security intelligence both inside and outside prisons.

Among the goals, according to the government, are more successful rehabilitations and a safer system for guards and the country’s 14,000 federal inmates.

The Star also asked CSC for the number of employees disciplined for bringing contraband items into prison, but the agency said it did not have any such records. However, last September, Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, told a parliamentary committee that it had dismissed 12 staff members that year for smuggling contraband into prisons.

Inmates caught with contraband material face a variety of sanctions, depending on the nature and seriousness of the transgression. Disciplinary measures include warnings, loss of privileges, an order to make restitution, fines, performance of extra duties, segregation from other inmates and, in some cases, the laying of criminal charges.

NDP public safety critic Jasbir Sandhu notes that while seizures of drugs appear to be increasing, the percentage of offenders testing positive for illegal drugs in CSC’s own random urinalysis tests has remained steady at around seven per cent since 2007-08.

“They’re spending $122 million to stop drugs coming in, but that hasn’t happened because the urinalysis results haven’t changed,” Sandhu said. “The benefit to the taxpayer has been zero.”

Jason Godin, regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which represents 6,800 federal officers, says tracking down contraband has become increasingly challenging as inmates develop new and creative ways to smuggle items inside.

“We’ve seen everything from things inside stuffed animals, tennis balls and drugs tied onto arrows and shot into the yard with a crossbow,” Godin said.

He added that offender profiles have changed over the last 15 years, with a larger percentage of inmates more likely to be affiliated with gangs. The relationships developed with other gang members on the outside have resulted in greater complexity when it comes to smuggling contraband, he said.

While there is little debate over the need to have good detection of contraband materials, Sapers said he is alarmed by the government’s recent shift away from treatment programs in favour of beefed-up security measures.

“We’ve been encouraging the service to increase its programming and treatment capacity, and often these are linked to addiction and mental health,” Sapers said.

He noted that spending on substance abuse programs has fallen to $9 million from $11 million in the past two years.

“The demand is there, the need is there and we’re seeing much of that need being unmet.”

CSC could not provide the Star with budget expenditures for 2010-11 due to “temporary technical issues,” but a 2010 overview of the agency pegs total corrections expenditures 2008-09 at $2.28 billion, up nearly 40 per cent since 2004-05. The average cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated rose from $87,919 to $109,699.


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Video: Prison Shakedown Finds Contraband Cell Phones

Each of the Wilcox State Prison’s 1,862 inmates were strip searched, then removed from their cells and placed in a holding room. Officers then entered two at a time, sometimes accompanied by a member of the K-9 unit.

By the end of the shakedown, officers had confiscated 32 cell phones, 21 weapons and small amounts of marijuana and meth. Most of the items were well hidden: behind walls, in ceilings or inside of a broken sink.

They said their biggest focus is finding and removing cell phones. Prison warden Robert Toole said they are just as dangerous as weapons.

“Once that one cell phone makes it in, it just opens up the flood gates,” he said. “It allows inmates to communicate, to carry on criminal activity outside the walls. It allows inmates to intimidate possible witnesses.”

Contraband cell phones can be replaced by the meshDETECT secure cell phone solution to reduce the demand for smuggled cell phones and control their use for criminal activity


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No Cell Phones In The Cell Block

Illinois becomes the latest state DOC to investigate the use of legislation and technology to block the use of smuggled cell phones in prison. Although the use of contraband cell phones seems to be less of a problem than in other large inmate population states.

That’s the latest message from state officials, who are poised to start cracking down on people who try to smuggle portable phones into prison.

Faced with the prospect that inmates could be using smuggled cellphones to plan escapes or run criminal enterprises, the Illinois Department of Corrections is asking companies how much it would cost for them to install special equipment at Illinois’ nearly 30 prisons that might detect whether illegal cellphone calls are being made from within the prison walls.

The scanning technology is just one front in the state’s battle against cellphones.

State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, recently introduced legislation that would strip an inmate of up to 90 days of credit against their sentences if they are found in possession of a cellular phone.

The push in Illinois comes just a month after California approved similar measures designed to stop the flow of cellphones into their prison system. The sponsor of that legislation said the number of cellphones confiscated in California prisons grew from 261 in 2006 to more than 10,700 in 2010.

In Illinois, however, Corrections’ officials say the number of cellphones flowing into the prison system is a mere trickle.

“It is not a common occurrence. The average is about five cellphones confiscated per year, but we are at eight for this year, so it is up a little,” said IDOC spokeswoman Sharyn Elman.

It has been a problem elsewhere.

A National Institute of Justice report on cellphones in prison notes a number of examples where phones played a role in potential crimes.

In Nevada, the report noted, prison officials fired a dental assistant for helping an inmate get a cellphone to plan a successful escape. In New York, an inmate used a cellphone to orchestrate an attempted escape while on a medical transfer.

The federal report added that prison officials in Tennessee banned jars of peanut butter after learning that an inmate accused in the shooting death of a guard had used a jar to hide the cellphone he used to coordinate his escape.

For now, Illinois officials are not saying how much they are willing to spend on one of a number of potential systems designed to thwart inmates from using cellphones smuggled to them in prisons.

“We have no plans to utilize this service at this point,” Elman added. “We are simply requesting information to learn more about what is available.”

In the meantime, Illinois inmates are still allowed some phone privileges using older, landline technology.

Under current state prison rules, all inmates have an approved list of numbers they are allowed to call using phones at each prison. For general population offenders who are not under any disciplinary measures there is no limit on collect calls or prepaid calls. The phone system will disconnect the call after 20 minutes but the offender can then dial it again if no one is waiting for the phone.

“If an offender is under any form of discipline his or her phone privileges can be limited to one call per month or no calls at all,” Elman noted.


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Prisons Seeking New Sources Of Revenue

Recent statistics show that, on average, a day in state prison costs nearly $80

Cash-strapped states have increasingly turned to user fees to fund their criminal justice systems, as well as to provide general budgetary support. States now charge defendants for everything from probation supervision, to jail stays, to the use of a constitutionally-required public defender. Every stage of the criminal justice process, it seems, has become ripe for a surcharge.

These “user fees” differ from other kinds of court-imposed financial obligations. Unlike fines, whose purpose is to punish, and restitution, whose purpose is to compensate victims, user fees are explicitly intended to raise revenue. Sometimes deployed as an eleventh hour maneuver to close a state budget gap, the decision to raise or create new user fees is rarely made with much deliberation or thought about the consequences. (source)

How did these fees come to be such an important part of funding prison operations?

History of Inmate Fees

In 1982, Michigan passes the first law in the nation, allowing inmates to be charged a medical co-payment.

By 1997, 41 states had been authorized to collect inmate fees in four major categories:
1. Medical services,
2. Per diem,
3. Non-program functions, and
4. Program participation.

By 2004, according to an article by Institute for Southern Studies, approximately one-third of county jails and more than 50% of state correctional systems had instituted “pay-to-stay” fees, charging inmates for their own incarceration.

What are facilities currently charging for?
1. Medical services;
2. Per diem – includes “pay-to-stay,” food, and basic programs;
3. Other non-program functions – includes services such as telephone usage, haircuts, release/parole escort, and drug testing; and
4. Program participation – includes work release, electronic monitoring, substance abuse treatment, and medical costs. (source)

In more detail, these fees can include:

Release escort
Drug testing
Commissary (general)
Commissary (debit card transaction fee)
Notary service
Property damage
Recreational clothing/gear
Sheriff’s fee, criminal court clerk
Vending machines
Work release (room and board)
Weekender programs
Medical Co-pays

New Revenue Sources

As state budgets continue to contract, prison systems across the country are getting more creative in their fee sources. For example, inmate visits in Arizona now require a $25 fee. 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 is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

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

And in Ohio, criminals sentenced to the Franklin County jail will be charged $40 for the pleasure, starting next year.

Sheriff Zach Scott proposed the fee after commissioners asked him to find ways to generate revenue. The one-time charge will apply to criminals sentenced to either the medium- or maximum-security jail.

“We need the money,” said Scott, who has been fighting with the county over his 2012 budget.

Dave Masterson, Scott’s finance director, predicted that the fee will generate between $106,000 and $200,000 annually for Scott’s operating budget. Chief Deputy Mark Barrett said the $40 fee is based on the cost of labor to book a prisoner into the jail.

In Wichita, KS, the City Council has given initial approval to charge a housing fee for municipal offenders.

Right now the city pays millions to the county to house the inmates, and city officials say the tab is getting too big. Since 2008, the county has charged the city $2.09 per hour to house municipal offenders. That amounts to millions of dollars the city pays each year.

To cut back on that bill, the city wants to shift the cost to convicted offenders. The city is proposing is a $2 per hour fee attached with a ten dollar booking fee.

The Impact Of Mandatory Fees

For prisons, detainees and their families, the impact of mandatory fees can be significant. Fees and other criminal justice debt are typically levied on a population uniquely unable to make payments. Criminal defendants are overwhelmingly poor. It is estimated that 80-90 percent of those charged with criminal offenses qualify for indigent defense. Nearly 65 percent of those incarcerated in the U.S. did not receive a high school diploma; 70 percent of prisoners function at the lowest literacy levels. African-Americans face a particularly severe burden: Nationally, African-Americans comprise 13 percent of the population but 28 percent of those arrested and 40 percent of those incarcerated, and African-Americans are almost five times more likely than white defendants to rely on indigent defense counsel.

Individuals emerging from prison often face significant challenges meeting basic needs. Many are unable to find stable housing – it is estimated that 15 to 27 percent of prisoners expect to go to homeless shelters upon their release. Many used drugs or alcohol regularly before going to prison and may need treatment upon release.

Employment rates for those coming out of prison are also notoriously low – up to 60 percent of former inmates are unemployed one year after release. Obstacles to finding a job are even greater now, as the unemployment rate in the general population hovers at just under 10 percent, and is as high as 16 percent for industries such as construction that have traditionally been sources of jobs for persons with criminal convictions.

Against this backdrop, criminal justice debt adds yet one more barrier to getting on one’s feet. What at first glance appears to be easy money for the state can carry significant hidden costs – both human and financial – for individuals, for the government, and for the community at large. When persons with convictions are unable to pay their debts, they face a cascade of consequences. Late fees, interest, and other “poverty penalties” accrue. In many states, driver’s licenses are suspended for missed payments, thereby stripping individuals of a legal means of traveling to work. Damaged credit can make it difficult to find employment or housing.

Worse yet, in many ways, when states impose debt that cannot be paid they are charting a path back to prison. Debt-related mandatory court appearances and probation and parole conditions leave debtors vulnerable for violations that result in a new form of debtors’ prison. Suspended driver’s licenses lead to criminal sanctions if debtors continue to drive. Aggressive collection tactics can disrupt employment, make it difficult to meet other obligations such as child support, and lead to financial insecurity – all of which can lead to recidivism. (source)

A Fairer Alternative?

One alternative is to offer “optional” services such as the email service and mp3 players mentioned above. Only those who can afford the service will purchase. However, the revenue to the prison can be significant and reoccurring given the ongoing nature of these service offerings. The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution is another such optional service that can offered to raise revenue. In addition to reducing the value of contraband cell phones in prison, commission earnings can be an alternative to the burden of imposed fees on those least likely to be able to pay.

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Cellphones Don’t Belong In These Cells

We agree that unmonitored contraband cell phones don’t belong in prison cells, but we believe that a secure prison cell phone solution such as meshDETECT can not only reduce the demand for smuggled cell phones but also enhance safety, decrease recidivism and increase prison revenues.

Download our whitepaper “Reducing the Demand for Contraband Cell Phones in Correctional Facilities” to learn more.

Sarah Pender orchestrated her escape from Rockville Correctional Facility in 2008 using contraband cellphones and a network of accomplices.

Pender, who was featured as one of “America’s Most Wanted’s” Top Ten Fugitives before her capture, showed state prison officials the danger of prisoners using technology behind bars.

Todd Tappy, deputy chief of internal affairs in the Indiana Department of Correction, said cellphones rival weapons as a top threat to safety in Indiana’s prisons.

Prisoners have used cellphones to traffic drugs and tobacco, organize assaults, intimidate witnesses and victims, order people killed or coordinate escapes — as Pender did. Unlike calls made through the prison system, prison officials can’t monitor inmates’ cellphone calls.

“We have serious concerns about their introduction into any of our facilities,” said Traci Billingsley, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons.

More than 1,760 cellphones were confiscated from Indiana state prisons in 2010, Department of Correction data show. The Bureau of Prisons confiscated more than 3,600 cellphones nationwide last year from its federal prisons.

Illinois prison officials, on the other hand, confiscated only five cellphones in 2010, data provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections show.

Stacey Solano, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said she couldn’t explain the difference. She said Illinois’ numbers might be so low because of officials’ vigilance in searching prisoners, staff and visitors.

“We do everything we can within our power to make sure cellphones and other contraband don’t make it into our facilities,” Solano said.

The proliferation of cellphones in prisons can have dire consequences.

In South Carolina, an off-duty prison official was shot six times in the chest and stomach last year in his home. He survived the attack, which was ordered by an inmate using a smuggled cellphone.

A New Jersey inmate used a contraband cellphone last year to order the slaying of his former girlfriend in retaliation for her initial cooperation in a police investigation about him.

In Tennessee, a Nashville police officer was shot in 2009 by a man who had escaped from a Mississippi prison with the help of a cellphone.

Tappy said Indiana prisoners buy cellphones for anywhere from $400 to more than $1,000 — depending on the difficulty of getting them into a facility.

Indiana prison officials search prisoners cells, use metal detectors and conduct more thorough searches of their own staff, contractors, visitors and prisoners. Tappy said Indiana also uses dogs trained specifically to sniff out wireless devices.

“It’s dangerous not only to the offenders but to the public,” Tappy said. “We have to do everything we can to keep (cellphones) out of our facilities.”


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Inmates Harass Victims Via Facebook

The problem of contraband cell phones in prison is not limited to unmonitored phone calls. Internet access via smuggled smartphones allows prisoners to harass victims and witnesses via social networks like Facebook. The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution has no internet access or camera capabilities.

Lisa Gesik hesitates to log into her Facebook account nowadays because of unwanted “friend” requests, not from long-ago classmates but from the ex-husband now in prison for kidnapping her and her daughter.

Neither Gesik nor prison officials can prove her ex-husband is sending her the messages, which feature photos of him wearing his prison blues and dark sunglasses, arms crossed as he poses in front of a prison gate. It doesn’t matter if he’s sending them or someone else is – the Newport, Ore., woman is afraid and, as the days tick down to his January release, is considering going into hiding with her 12-year-old daughter.

“It’s just being victimized all over again,” she said.

Across the U.S. and beyond, inmates are using social networks and the growing numbers of smartphones smuggled into prisons and jails to harass their victims or accusers and intimidate witnesses. California corrections officials who monitor social networking sites said they have found many instances in which inmates taunted victims or made unwanted sexual advances.

Like Gesik’s case, it’s often difficult for authorities to determine for sure who’s sending the threatening material and the few people caught rarely face serious consequences.

“The ability to have these kinds of contacts is increasing exponentially. In many ways, the law has not caught up with these changing technologies,” said Rob Bovett, an Oregon district attorney whose office prosecuted Gesik’s ex-husband, Michael Gladney.

Timothy Heaphy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said criminals’ use of social networks to reach witnesses has made his job harder.

“We deal every day with witnesses who are afraid of being identified,” he said. “If there are increased instances where folks who are incarcerated can reach outside the walls of the jail, that’s going to make it more difficult for us to get cooperation.”

In a rare victory, Heaphy’s office successfully prosecuted John Conner and Whitney Roberts after they set up a Facebook account that Conner used to intimidate witnesses preparing to testify against him on charges of burning two houses to punish a girlfriend and collect the insurance.

“How the hell can u b a gangsta when u snitchin and lien…,” said a post from the pair that publicly exposed one witness who cooperated with law enforcement, according to federal court records.

The issue has emerged as cell phones have proliferated behind bars. In California, home to the nation’s largest inmate population, the corrections department confiscated 12,625 phones in just 10 months this year. Six years ago, they found just 261. The number of phones confiscated by the federal Bureau of Prisons has doubled since 2008, to 3,684 last year.

Noting the increase, California legislators approved a law bringing up to six months in jail for corrections employees or visitors who smuggle mobile devices into state prisons, while inmates caught with the phones can now lose up to 180 days of early-release credit. But no additional time is added to their sentence, minimizing the deterrence factor.

In the old days, those behind bars would have to enlist a relative or friend to harass or intimidate to get around no-contact orders. Social networks now cut out the middle man.

In Gesik’s case, Gladney used to harass her the old-fashioned way, sending letters and making phone calls through third parties. The Facebook harassment began in June.

Gesik, 44, got prison officials to contact Facebook to remove that account, only to have another message appearing to be from him in September. This time, there was a different spelling of his last name.

“I figure, if he’s done all this from in prison, what’s he’s going to do when he gets out?” Gesik said.

A gap in state law meant that “no contact” orders like the one Gesik obtained against Gladney were deemed not to apply to anyone in custody, said Bovett, the prosecutor. “So they could do these very creative ways of reaching victims through third parties,” he said.

Last June, Oregon legislators approved a law prohibiting inmates from contacting their domestic violence victims from behind bars.

In California, prison officials are working with Facebook to identify inmate accounts and take them down. But that only generally happens only after the damage is done.

Karen Carrisosa, who lives in a Sacramento suburb, was aghast when officials found Facebook postings from Corcoran State Prison inmate Fredrick Garner. Garner is serving a 22-year, involuntary manslaughter sentence for killing her husband, 50-year-old Larry Carrisosa, outside a church 11 years ago.

“My kids, they go on Facebook, I go on Facebook, and what if they decide to look us up?” Carrisosa said.

She was alerted by a Sacramento television station that Garner was posting messages to his mother and others. Garner was punished with a 30-day reduction in his early release credits for possessing a forbidden cell phone and has since been transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison.

Hector Garcia Jr. used a smuggled smart phone hidden in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison to rally support on Facebook for an inmate hunger strike this summer that sought improved living conditions for gang leaders housed in special secure cellblocks.

“Starving for my better future,” he posted, according a July 1 screen grab from the corrections department. “Let’s do this … statewide…”

The discovery rattled Isabel Gutierrez. Garcia murdered one of her sons and wounded another in January 2005. Now Gutierrez fears her own social-networking left her vulnerable.

“I panicked,” she said. “My photos are up of my family and my grandkids. I felt like they can see into my world.”

Guards found Garcia’s phone, punishing him with a 30-day cut in early-release credits and 30 days’ loss of yard, TV and radio privileges.

Attorneys who represented Garcia and Gladney in their previous criminal trials did not return phone calls seeking comment on behalf of their former clients.


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