Tag Archives: contraband

Prisoners At HMP Birmingham To Be Given In-Cell Phones

HMP Birmingham Winson Green prison 300x199 Prisoners At HMP Birmingham To Be Given In Cell Phones Following a trend in the UK, another prison will install in-cell phones. According to the article, the reasons for this deployment are positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation, encouraging the maintenance of family ties, and reducing the prevalence of illegal mobile phones.

Prisoners will have phones installed in their cells under new plans for a Midland prison. The move at HMP Birmingham, which takes inmates from across the Black Country, comes despite a law being introduced last year which made it a crime for inmates to have mobile phones behind bars.

Security firm G4S, which runs the Winson Green prison, is introducing the phones because staff say it can have a ‘positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation’.

Prisoners will only be allowed to dial numbers approved by the prison, and each inmate will have to pay their own call charges. Their conversations can also be recorded or listened to for security purposes.

The prison, which has a capacity of 1,450 male adults, already allows inmates to have televisions in their cells at the cost of £1 a week per cell.

It has also emerged that HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton, had cell phones fitted when it was built in 2012. G4S spokesman Michael Baker said: “Our experience is that in-cell phones can have a positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation, not only encouraging the maintenance of family ties, but reducing the prevalence of illegal mobile phones.”

He added: “New prisons are built with in-cell phones and although HMP Birmingham dates back to 1849, we are introducing them into the establishment. Access to telephones, like any other privilege, is dependent on prisoners’ continued good behaviour.”

In March last year the Crime and Security Act was passed which stated that prisoners risked extra time being tagged onto their sentences if they were caught with a mobile phones. It aimed to cut down on prisoners keeping in touch with their criminal contacts while inside.

But in the first eight months of the new laws there were 109 prisoners found with phones at HMP Birmingham, 38 convicts had phones at HMP Featherstone and two at HMP Oakwood.

There are no plans to introduce the phone system in HMP Featherstone which neighbours Oakwood.

Last year it emerged that a permanent police team has been based at Winson Green prison to crack down on drugs being thrown over its walls to inmates.

Two detectives and two intelligence specialists are based behind bars, to stop banned substances being smuggled into the prison and thrown over walls.

The force says it is cheaper to base staff there permanently, despite G4S being on a multi-million pound contract to run the jail, as it stops officers being repeatedly called in to tackle crime.

It comes after 236 occasions of contraband goods, including drugs and mobile phones, some stuffed in tennis balls or footballs, being thrown over HMP Birmingham’s walls in 2011.

G4S, has also fitted netting over exercise yards to stop throw-over attempts hitting the ground.

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meshDETECT® Awarded Notice Of Allowance From The United States Patent And Trademark Office

meshDETECT registered logo jpg 300x261 meshDETECT® Awarded Notice Of Allowance From The United States Patent And Trademark OfficemeshDETECT® is pleased to announce that it has recently received a notice of allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a patent application entitled, “System and method for controlling, monitoring and recording of wireless telecommunications services in penal institutions” covering its Secure Prison Cell Phone Solutions™. A notice of allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office is a written notification that a patent application has cleared internal review and is pending issuance.

The application broadly covers systems and methods of providing incoming and outgoing telecommunications services to persons incarcerated in penal facilities. A plurality of controls is provided that may reduce contraband devices and encourage good behavior by detainees, penal employees, and others. Portable electronic devices, primarily mobile telephones, are provided to detainees that have exhibited acceptable behavior and are not determined to be security risks.

Contraband mobile telephones have become an increasing problem in prison facilities, further reducing prison facility inmate communications services earnings, compromising safety and presenting opportunities for prison employee corruption. While prison officials have taken steps to reduce contraband cell phones, the expanded capabilities of small portable devices have made such devices more valuable to detainees. This has increased economic incentives for penal employees to facilitate the smuggling and trafficking of these devices in prisons. With a contraband mobile device that has Internet access, a detainee may view telephone directories, maps and photographs for criminal purposes. Gang violence and drug trafficking are increasingly being managed online, allowing persons in penal facilities to continue engaging in criminal activity while incarcerated. Traditional solutions such as blocking or jamming cell phone signals have proven impractical.

meshDETECT® is a technology platform that can be offered in any prison interested in the smart deployment and management of secure prison cell phones – which promotes improved detainee behavior and increases officer safety. Best of all, there is no deployment cost. In fact, meshDETECT is a new source of revenue for prisons.

Prisons longer need to incur the expense and deployment challenges of wireless jamming technology, now that prison cell phone calls can now be monitored and recorded. Legitimate prison cell phone inventories can now replace contraband cell phones.

Update (7/2/13):
The meshDETECT patent (#8,478,234) was issued today by the United States Patent Office. You can view the patent here: meshDETECT Patent

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Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs

wireless prison payphone 225x300 Wireless Prison Payphone™ BriefsHere is the latest summary of recent news articles regarding contraband cell phones in prisons around the world. I am calling this round up of articles, “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.

Alabama Inmates With Illegal Cell Phone Active On Facebook: “Cell phones are against the law, that’s a new bill that just passed last year, making the possession, or the introduction of a cell phone into a prison setting a class C felony,” Corbett explains, though he still is not surprised by the discovery.

“Last year we confiscated more than 5,000 cell phones statewide.” The Department also has a policy against inmates using social networks. It’s clearly posted on the DOC’s website that such sites “are a security violation and will be shut down.” (Source)

Cat Caught Smuggling Saw, Cell Phone, Into Prison: The cat’s out of the bag, and that means prisoners at a prison in northeast Brazil will no longer have easy access to cell phones and saws.

Upon inspection, officials noticed that the feline was wrapped with tape. Underneath that tape was a battery of items including a saw, cell phone, drills, an earphone, memory card, batteries, and a phone charger. (Source)

Fourth Circuit to Hear Dispute Over Cell Phone Contraband Conviction: Here’s the issue: Did Beason have “fair and sufficient notice” that his possession of a mobile phone opened him up to criminal liability? Beason’s attorneys, Brian Kornbrath and Kristen Leddy, who work for federal public defender offices in West Virginia, contend the old law is unconstitutional for its vagueness. A cell phone, the attorneys said, “has a legal purpose and productive uses, which can carry over to the prison environment.”

“The vast majority of cell phone possession cases in federal prisons have been resolved through administrative sanctions within prisons, not in federal courts,” Beason’s lawyers said in a brief in the Fourth Circuit. “Beason was not given sufficient notice that his possession of a cell phone would subject him to federal criminal penalties.” (Source)

How Cell Phones Make Prison Drug Dealing Easy: Despite a lack of resources and an isolated consumer base, US correctional facilities host a thriving drugs market. But the limitations and monitoring imposed on the use of prison phones are an obstacle. “You can’t set up nothing on the regular prison phones because they are monitored,” one prisoner tells The Fix. “They record everything and when you are trying to make a move, you don’t want no one eavesdropping on your conversations so that they can make a bust or put the brakes on.” The solution isn’t hard to imagine: “With cell phones it is easy. No one is listening and you can talk freely. Once you got a cell phone, anything is possible.”

Of course, cell phones retail at a premium behind bars: Prisoners will pay up to $1,500 for one. But they’re not that difficult to find. “If you have money you can get a phone easy; you can get an iPhone with Internet access or whatever,” the prisoner says. (Source)

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SIM And microSD Cards In Contraband Cell Phones

SIM microSD contraband cellphone 300x269 SIM And microSD Cards In Contraband Cell PhonesA good article below about the forensic value of a confiscated contraband prison cell phone. One clarification, however: A SIM card is not the same as a microSD card – referred to in the article as a data card. The microSD card used in most smart phones is similar to a USB storage device for your PC in that it is used to store user determined data such as documents, pictures, media, etc.

A Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card is a portable memory chip used mostly in cell phones that operate on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network. These cards contain up to 128KB of available memory for storing the personal information of the account holder, including his or her phone number, address book, text messages, and other phone related data.

SIM cards store network-specific information used to authenticate and identify subscribers on the network. The most important of these are the ICCID, IMSI, Authentication Key (Ki), Local Area Identity (LAI) and Operator-Specific Emergency Number. The SIM also stores other carrier-specific data such as the SMSC (Short Message Service Center) number, Service Provider Name (SPN), Service Dialing Numbers (SDN), Advice-Of-Charge parameters and Value Added Service (VAS) applications. SIM cards do not store media.

SIM cards are only present in the GSM phones of carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA technology that does not require a SIM card.

Here’s a scenario that involves a triumph in contraband control. Suppose that through vigilance, shared observations and patience, you have uncovered the most insidious of contraband. You have found a smart phone inside the walls.

This is very good news, as it takes out of circulation a dangerous recorder and communicator. Firm in the knowledge that “information is knowledge,” you and your colleagues have disarmed a potential danger and enhanced safety in the facility.

Celebration seems warranted. However, there is more to do. With the evidence secured and key staff informed, the investigation begins. Some of the follow-up questions are:

• Which prisoner last had the phone?
• Did anyone else have it?
• How does the prisoner maintain a charge on the smart phone?
• Did the offender who had the smart phone work in concert with anyone else? In other words, is this a solo effort or part of a concerted effort through a security threat group?
• How did this smart phone come inside?
• Are there patterns with this incident that may aid in future searches?

With so much information to be gathered, it is easy to overlook one crucial question. Is there a data card with the smart phone?

All that one needs do is open up the phone and remove the mini card, SIM card, SD or whatever one would call it. The name is less important than its utility. The point is that it is a very small and potentially dangerous. And this part of the phone can be removed easily.

Why is this so important? Think of the data card as a removable brain in a mini computer. And this brain can be implanted in many other surprisingly easy to acquire smart phones. How can one describe the amazing storage capacity in something so small? Having all the information in the world on something the size of small coin might not be quite accurate. Still, micro storage technology is such that hundreds of pictures, contacts, texts and other data can be stored on a mini card that is smaller than a penny.

Through the eyes of corrections, let us view the nefarious utilities of data cards. The tiny titan of information storage can hold:

• Incriminating photographs of staff
• A store of all text messages sent and received
• Images that propagate gang activity
• Comprehensive directories of partners in crime
• Images of weak points in our defenses
• Maps
• Lists for store and gambling
• Potential for internet access (granted, this is only under certain circumstances)
• A working social media function

It may be that the information on an easy to hide storage chip is more valuable than the phone itself. This is not to diminish the value of an illegal smart phone in the hands of a prisoner. It just points back to the notion that information is power.

Of course, this does not mean that every micro card that one comes across will contain sensitive information. In fact, the laws of numbers dictate that somewhere and at some time a data card will be found in a jail or prison that contains virtually no useful information in terms of investigation or incrimination.

However, as with any contraband search proposition, it behooves us to continue to search for the danger that is possible. Otherwise, we may overlook a valuable clue.

Author: Joe Bouchard
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Texas To Invest in Cell Phone Blocking Technology

texas managed acess jamming 300x198 Texas To Invest in Cell Phone Blocking TechnologyThis article discusses the TDCJ’s decision to investigate the viability of managed access contraband cell phone jamming. California, Mississippi and Maryland are also testing the technology. The impact of smuggled contraband cell phones in prisons has been significant. As the article states, “A couple of years ago, there were long lines at the pay phones—hours long. By this year, no one was using them, there were so many smuggled cell phones.”

Update (3/15/13): Final testing starts next week at the first of two Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons where equipment has been installed to block calls to and from unauthorized phones.

The equipment, known as a managed access system, also diverts text messages, emails and Internet log-in attempts from contraband phones. It should be in full operation at the Stiles Unit outside Beaumont and the McConnell Unit near Beeville next month. The two prisons together hold some 5,000 inmates and historically have been the worst of the more than 100 Texas prisons when it comes to cellphone smuggling.

The managed access systems that are being installed won’t interfere with 911 calls, but they will only other calls and communication only to and from registered devices. The top managers at the prisons will decide which ones can be registered.

“It behaves as a cellular tower,” said Mike Bell, the prison system’s information technology director. “Based on ID numbers, if you’re on authorized list, it allows the call to go through.”

Update (9/7/12): Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee at a Capitol hearing 0n 9/4/12 that a “managed-access system” is to be installed by the end of the year at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont and the McConnell Unit in Beeville.

Livingston said the new system will not jam cellphone calls in and around prisons, but will instead intercept all outgoing calls. Only those to numbers that have been pre-approved will be allowed to go through, and the rest “will go to a dead end,” he said.

Livingston said the new managed-access technology is being paid for by Century Link, a private firm that operates pay phones inside Texas’ 111 state prisons. Officials earlier said the system’s cost was about $1 million per prison.

“These two prisons have had the most significant ongoing problems with (smuggled) cellphones, and that’s why they were selected,” Livingston said. “There are no plans at this time to go beyond these two units.”

California and Texas may be considered opposites on the political spectrum, but the two states do have the same philosophy when it comes to cell phones in state prisons.

California got the ball rolling when Global Tel Link agreed to pay millions to install technology in state prisons to block web searches, text messages and phone calls by inmates using smuggled phones.

Texas also saw a problem with its inmates smuggling phones into prison and has recently confirmed working with CenturyLink, a private company that operates pay phones inside Texas’ 111 state prisons, to evaluate installing a similar system in Texas.

“The system would be a managed-access system and does not jam cell phones,” said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“Managed access intercepts the outgoing calls and only allows calls from approved numbers. This is legal,” Clark said, noting that the Federal Communications Commission prohibits jamming.

Inmates’ access to cell phones in prison can have extreme consequences. Some inmates have used cell phones to run criminal enterprises from behind bars and organize assaults on guards and intimidate witnesses, California prison officials said.

“This groundbreaking and momentous technology will enable [the prison system] to crack down on the potentially dangerous communications by inmates,” said Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matt Cate.

In 2011, California prison guards confiscated more than 15,000 contraband phones. In the same year, Texas prison officials seized 904 cell phones.

The first prison in California is expected to receive Global Tel*Link’s technology by October 2012, according to Dana Simas, information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

When the system is installed, each prison will get its own cell tower that will allow prison officials to control all incoming and outgoing calls. All other calls will not go through within the confines of the prison.

“After this system goes in, smuggled cell phones will be nothing more than glorified paperweights,” said Simas. “A couple of years ago, there were long lines at the pay phones —hours long. By this year, no one was using them, there were so many smuggled cell phones.”

Source

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Working The Jailhouse Black Market

prison black market 300x246 Working The Jailhouse Black MarketA fascinating article about how contraband cell phones facilitate the prison black market economy. An economy in which even some of the guards are participants. As the article states, “a $20 basic phone earns the guards that sell it an easy $400 to $500…But if you use the phone and sell time off of it to the other inmates, you’ll make your money back in one month.” As we have written before, wireless airtime is the new prison currency.

There is a long and sordid tradition of business going on in American prisons.

The isolated consumer base, the high demand for goods, the excruciatingly limited supply — it’s a hothouse of entrepreneurial finesse, extreme risk — and obscene returns.

The biggest selling items behind bars have always offered a slice of escape. Not a file, or a schematic of the pipes leading outside the gates, but an instant of abandon allowing an inmate to forget about his life and to live outside the walls, if only in his mind.

Until recently that meant drugs, and the slippery trick of allowing the mind to believe it was someplace else, but that has changed.

There are still drugs in prison, but now there’s a better escape that for the enterprising and charming convict may even generate a source of monetary return: smart phones. It’s no secret, prison cell phones are in the news and we wanted to see what we could find out.

To learn more about the “hustle,” what inmates call any moneymaking scheme in prison, we rented a P.O. Box and sent off letters to a handful of American prisoners. Among others we heard from Leon Kingsley (not his real name) who eventually talked to us on a smart phone away from the prying eyes and ears of penal officers. Kingsley says that a $20 basic phone earns the guards that sell it an easy $400 to $500. Kingsley sent us the pictures here to prove what he says is the truth.

“And the police will do it, too, because they get paid very little,” Kingsley, who’s serving a 10-year state sentence and 110-month federal sentence, says “But if you use the phone and sell time off of it to the other inmates, you’ll make your money back in one month.”

“There’s a lot of money in here…a lot of money you can make. If you have a good officer, you can make $4,000 or $5,000 a week.”

If the phone has wireless capabilities, it can cost the prisoner — or their people on the outside — as much as $1,000. With high-speed internet access, Kingsley says the inmates will make Facebook accounts, “meet girls and get them to send money.”

For $50, the inmates can purchase 15 hours of phone time, typically broken up to an hour a day, 30 minutes at a time. Although most inmates use these precious moments to call friends and family, there’s also the opportunity for convicts to contact co-defendants and witnesses — such as the alarm caused when authorities found unauthorized cell phones in convicted serial killer Charles Manson’s property.

Through what Kingsley calls “word on the street,” prisoners usually know which guards will help them bring in contraband, the same way that civilians who want illegal goods know where to go and who to ask.

“You just try them up, you have to get talking to them,” he says.

If the officers agree to deal, the inmates have cash sent in.

Aside from cell phones, anything that you can’t buy at the prison store (commissary) has value on the inside.

Kingsley says a can of Bugler tobacco — which goes for around thirty bucks — can be broken down and sold for $1,200. An ounce of pot that costs $100 “on the streets” will go for $600 or $700 behind bars.

“There’s the weed man, the meth man, whatever you want. And your friends will tell you these things.”

In order to conduct business with one another, the prisoners have credit cards — most of them use Green Dot Reloadable prepaid cards, which their loved ones can purchase at drugstores.

Once the people “on the outside” purchase money packs to put on the prepaid cards, they’ll receive a security code, and the people “on the inside” can use these codes to purchase whatever they want. Their sellers will then call a 1800-number, “give them the code” and have the money downloaded onto their own credit cards.

“A lot of stuff in here is run by the gangs…there’s the Mexican gangs, the Bloods, the Crips. They all run their own shit. They keep their business pretty good and they don’t F*** each other over.”

“They always say that they were already in gangs before coming into prison, but a lot of them are weak people forming up with others so no one runs them over.”

“I mean, I’m not in a gang and I do fine,” he says.

When you’re involved with anything illegal — even if you’re already in jail — you run the risk of “catching” new charges, but Kingsley says he “hasn’t seen it getting done.”

When he was caught with a phone, Kingsley tells us he received a written a disciplinary report (DR), which required him to go to the prison court.

With a D.R. citation, Kingsley says the officers might restrict your commissary privileges, deny you from making legitimate phone calls or receiving mail for 90-days, but most likely, the offender won’t catch new charges because the officers try to “sweep it under the rug.”

“They know the cops are bringing it in, not the prisoners. And they don’t want news of that getting out.”

Kingsley says the officers will do a “clean up,” where they check the cells, twice annually, and confiscate anything unauthorized. This gets expensive for inmates so they hide their contraband, like phones, in food and in “places where [they've] cut into the walls,” under boxes and inside furniture if they can manage to take it apart.

“It’s a constant racket for officers to make more money really, because they’ll take our stuff so we can sneak in more stuff and pay them all over again.”

Kinsley shares an open cell with 40 other people. He has about five years left to serve on his sentence.

Source

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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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CCST Report Raises Concerns About Untested CDCR Cell Phone Jamming Technology

MAS CDCR cell Jamming 300x245 CCST Report Raises Concerns About Untested CDCR Cell Phone Jamming TechnologyAs we have written previously, the CDCR has forgone all prison telephone commissions as part of a new contract with Global Tel*link (GTL) in return for GTL installing managed access signal (MAS) jamming systems in all 33 of the CRDR’s prison facilities.

However, 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.

There are some very interesting insights to come from the report including:

  • During CCST’s visit to two prisons (Solano State Prison and California Medical Facility) in January 2012, we had the opportunity to interview inmates, gathering a unique perspective on the contraband cell phone issue. The opinion expressed by some inmates during those visits was that cell phones used by prisoners allowed unfettered contact to family and loved ones otherwise unavailable. The question, “If cell phones were provided as part of the IWTS, and knowing that the calls were recorded, would this deter cell phone use?” was answered with a “no”; the inmates indicated that they were used to their calls being recorded when using the IWTS. There was also acknowledgment by the prisoners that a percentage – small by the inmates’ estimation – of cell phone calls are used for illicit and illegal activity. It was noted by the CCST Project Team that access to cell phones (even if monitored by CDCR via computers with screening software) offers to many inmates an ongoing connection to family and friends, as well as entertainment on smart phones (such as games, videos  and ESPN sports games). Consideration could be given to piloting a method to screen contraband cell phone calls (rather than blocking) to better understand the impacts that the phones have on prisoner recidivism and overall prison temperament.


(Perhaps a through a trial of the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution? Our solution can be deployed immediately and allows the recording and monitoring of each call made.)

  • The only MAS system currently implemented in a U.S. correctional facility is the Parchman Prison in Mississippi. This system has been in operation at Parchman Prison since July 2010. According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, this MAS is still a pilot operation and is not fully deployed due to operational issues. Roll out of the system to other Mississippi prisons is on hold until these issues are worked out satisfactorily. The equipment used at Parchman Prison is not the equipment previously tested in California at a CDCR facility.
  • Because of the paucity of system vendors, the lack of the ability to monitor interference outside of the subscribed area, and the lack of large-scale operational application of technologies used for MAS, there is no template of implementation techniques to model or follow for MAS. If the CDCR proceeds with the IFB as currently written, it would be important to note that each correctional institution installation will be a new learning experience, and each caveat would be discovered as it is installed. Although similar problems are likely to arise at each installation, solutions for each individual prison are likely going to vary significantly depending on a complex host of local factors.
  • The proposed MAS systems lack the finite systematic radio power level control capability necessary to prevent interference in real time. This means the only mechanism for interference mitigation would be by exception. For instance, when someone’s cell phone service outside the prison is affected by interference, they would need to report it, and the cause could then be detected and corrected. The proposed MAS approach also lacks the capability to be simply modified for new cell phone communications technologies. Each and every upgrade of the MAS systems will be tantamount to a complete new installation. This, predictably, would be disruptive and could lead to long periods of inferior performance.
  • Since the MAS is a cell phone system with antennas and interconnect cabling and support computers it will need to be installed in highly secure areas away from inmate access to prevent tampering or destruction. The existing cabling systems in prisons will not support the RF signaling being carried to and from the antenna arrays and the transmitter receiver systems. All required MAS infrastructure will need to be newly installed.
  • If the prison is in or near a populated area, RF leakage could be highly disruptive to cell phone usage by the non-prison population. Among other things, this disruption could greatly reduce the capability of public safety professionals to serve the community’s needs or the general public’s ability to access a 911 operator.

 

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Cell Phones in Federal Prison

federal inmate cell phone 300x224 Cell Phones in Federal PrisonUpdate (4/14): The DOJ just announced that it 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.

This blog post written by Seth Ferranti, a Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate, provides an inside view of the problem of contraband cell phones in federal prison. As we have written, the problem of cell phones smuggled into prisons is dealt with entirely through a supply-side strategy meant to stop the flow of contraband wireless devices into the prison and increase the penalties for being caught with a smuggled phone.

The impact of this strategy, when effective, is to raise the value of the contraband in prison. As the article states, “All this succeeded in doing was making the prices for cell phones in prison skyrocket. Prisoners were still getting them in and using them. If you had the money you could buy one. Instead of just one prisoner having a phone, prisoners started grouping together, so that five prisoners might buy, keep and use one phone. It was more economical that way, with cell phones now going for upwards of $1500.”

As the blog post states, the airtime on cellphones has also become a new form of prison currency.

Providing prisoners, especially minimum security detainees, with a controlled and secure prison cell phone such as the meshDETECT solution will siphon off the predominant use of the contraband phones for communication with loved ones. Combined with the supply-side strategy, this demand-side approach will lower the value of the contraband wireless phones, eliminate airtime as prison currency and reduce recidivism.

Cell phones are more common in prison than you would think. All across the country in our nation’s prisons, prisoners are using cell phones to run their criminal enterprises, conduct business and stay in contact with their families. The smuggling of cell phones into prisons as contraband items has become a big and profitable business for guards and correctional officers who are quick to take advantage and make a dollar. The federal government is taking notice by enacting new and stiffer penalties for both guards and prisoners alike when they get caught with cell phones in prison. To the security conscious prison administrators, cell phones in prison are an epidemic that they are desperately trying to curtail. But with the large amounts of money changing hands for the contraband items the temptation will always be there for both guards and prisoners.

I have been in prison in the federal system for 19 years. Personally I have never had a cell phone or attempted to get one but being in the prison environment I have seen, heard and witnessed what has happened with cell phones over the years and I can relate my experiences to you. For informational purposes only of course. I first experienced the cell phone epidemic in 1999 when I transferred to FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey, a low security prison. Right when I got there, a dude I will call Jeff, approached and asked me if I needed to make a call. He went on to explain that the first call was free, but any call I made after that was three books of stamps, or about $15 at the time. I politely declined, because I did not know the dude and it was my first time in a low security prison. I had heard all types of stories of dudes going down to the lows and getting busted and set up for this type of thing, so I avoided Jeff.

But after I had been on the compound for a while I found out Jeff was a stand up guy and cell phones were his hustle. He had been at the camp at Fort Dix before and had an elaborate scheme where one of his homeboys would toss the phones over the fence of the low at a prearranged spot and Jeff would pick them up and sell them for about $200 to 300 on the compound and charge dudes $15 for unmonitored and unlimited calls. It was his hustle and his hustle was good. At the time the consequences of getting caught with a cell phone were not that serious. It was only considered a 300 series or minor shot, but that would soon change.

I got sent back up to a medium-high security institution shortly after that for writing an article in Don Diva Magazine that called for the United States to stage the drug war crime trials, where prosecutors and federal judges would be put on trial for crimes committed against the citizens of the United States, and in the medium-highs the cell phones were less prevalent, but still there. They were going for about $500. I was at FCI Fairton and a lot of the Mafia guys had cell phones. I had a lot of friends in camps and they were calling my wife on their cell phones regularly and talking to her and telling her to tell me hello. I even had some of their numbers on my prison monitored phone list. I would call them at the camp and see what was up. They would tell me I needed to get to a camp pronto. That was life in the feds. With the consequences for cell phones being minor, everyone, especially those at a camp (a minimum security prison) had one. That didn’t last long though.

With the epidemic reaching epic proportions the Bureau of Prisons acted decisively and changed the shot for cell phones from the light 300 series to a much more serious 100 series, which was the highest severity. They started writing prisoners, who got caught with cell phones 100 series shot and throwing them in the hole and transferring them. This was a big change, because for the 300 series shot, prisoners would lose their commissary for 30 to 60 days, but for the 100 series shots, they would get thrown in the whole for 60 days, lose 41 days good time plus phone, commissary and visiting privileges for six months. On top of that they would lose their camp status and be transferred to a higher security and much more restrictive prison.

All this succeeded in doing was making the prices for cell phones in prison skyrocket. Prisoners were still getting them in and using them. If you had the money you could buy one. Instead of just one prisoner having a phone, prisoners started grouping together, so that five prisoners might buy, keep and use one phone. It was more economical that way, with cell phones now going for upwards of $1500. Plus the Bureau of Prisons got crafty and started removing the Sims cards and all the info off them from the cell phones when they found them and ran the info against numbers on a prisoner’s monitored phone account, so that they could write them shots and throw them in the hole off the circumstantial evidence. So now, you don’t even have to be busted with the cell phone, if the number of your people is on there and they can match it up to your prison phone account or visiting list numbers they will write you a 100 series shot and throw you in the hole. But all this hasn’t stopped anything.

In 2006, I transferred to FCI Loretto in Pennsylvania and they had several guards bringing in cell phones, text messagers and even Smart Phones. Prisoners were going on the Internet, posting on Myspace and Facebook, texting their friends and families, even snapping photos and posting them on the social networking sites, all from prison. The phones were going for $500 to 800 and a lot of dudes had them. The SIS staff, who were in charge of prison investigations, were going nuts trying to find out who had the phones. They knew some of the Mafia guys had phones and went on a rampage, shaking down and ripping apart the lockers and rooms of anyone with an Italian surname.

There was one crazy guy from Boston, who used to send photos of his penis, a la Brett Favre, to girls he would meet on Myspace and Facebook. The girls would send back images of their private parts, which the dude would show to all his friends. The girls had no idea this guy was in prison. He never got busted or caught with the phone but other dudes did. It became a regular occurrence to get caught with a phone.

Nowadays the feds are giving prisoners caught with phones outside cases. I was just in the hole last spring here at FCC Forrest City in Arkansas with a dude who got busted with two cell phones. He got an outside case and got three more months on top of his sentence. He told me that even for two cell phones he could have only got six more months, but he was in the hole for almost nine months going to court for the case and was eventually transferred to a higher level prison and he got his phone privileges taken for five years. But he said it was worth it because when he was on the compound he had a sweet hookup similar to the one I described above with Jeff and he told me he was making a killing selling the cell phones and had his money stacked. But the feds and BOP aren’t playing when it comes to these phones, still they can’t do anything to stop them.

A certain rapper dude, whose name I won’t disclose, but was in prison with me, allegedly had a cell phone the whole time he was in prison. He was conducting his business, making plans and finalizing the deal on his new reality TV show. When his phones were found in searches and shakedowns, he would just place an order for another one and he would have it within two or three days, paying up to $1500 for it. One time they found two iPhones in his stash spot, but he didn’t sweat it. He had another one by the end of the week. But this is just hearsay and word on the pound, so who knows if it’s true.

The administration here seems to think that cell phones are coming in through the visiting room and they have changed up the whole visiting room policies because of this. My whole bid I have been able to hold my wife’s hand during visits, now due to the administration here saying that cell phones are coming in through the visits I can’t hold hands with my wife in the visiting room anymore. I can only hug and kiss her when she enters and leaves; the rest of the visit is no contact. They have even gone so far as to say that kids can’t sit on their father’s laps during visits. They are saying that there is no touching allowed at all.

It’s crazy times in the feds. I am glad that I will be out in the next couple of years, because it is only getting worse in here. The prison establishment knows their guards are bringing in the contraband but they blame us and make our families and loved ones suffer. Recently someone offered to sell me a cell phone for $1500, but I declined. I don’t need the trouble.

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Reduced Prison Phone Rates Pave the Road to Rehabilitation

Jail Phone 197x300 Reduced Prison Phone Rates Pave the Road to RehabilitationThis is a great article discussing the value and need for more communication between prison detainees in order to reduce recidivism. As the article states, “Phone calls can mean the difference between maintaining relationships that make leading a healthy life outside of prison or falling into a cycle of moving in and out of prison.” High cost is part of the reason for the epidemic of contraband cell phones being smuggled into prisons everywhere.

There are multiple reasons why families and prisoners are unable to stay connected, including the reason discussed in this article – the high cost of phone calls from prisons and jails. However, there are other reasons that we feel can be addressed by the unique meshDETECT secure cell phone solution.

For instance, there are a limited number of payphones in each prison facility. As one wife of a prisoner in a federal prison told us, “The lines that an inmate has to wait in to make a call are at least an hour long (during prime phone time). Often, this breeds heightened emotions and “combative” type situations for inmates. For example: if one guy is taking too long on his call and someone makes a rude comment/remark it can easily start a fight. I hear about it often. My husband and I will usually cut our conversations short out of respect for other inmates behind him in line.” Not only does this limit the amount of time on the phone, and risk prisoner and correctional officer safety, the quality of the calls is impacted. Prisoners and their loved ones would like the privacy (not secrecy) to allow them to speak of health, personal and private matters when communicating.

Especially for those families that are unable to visit their incarcerated loved one due to distance or other circumstances, the prison payphone system is a lifeline for all involved. Our goal is to strengthen and enhance that lifeline while providing the prisons the security and control necessary to prevent improper use of the cell phone. In this way, we are reducing the demand for contraband cell phones and aiding prisoner rehabilitation.

Chris Duran understands the value of a phone call. Duran pays roughly $2.80 for a 15-minute phone call to talk with her partner who is incarcerated at a detention center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That same call in Colorado would be $5.00, the difference is attributed to the unregulated prison phone rate system. Phone companies will often include high commissions to state prisons within contracts in exchange for being the exclusive service provider. The rate of these commissions inflates the cost of phone calls for families in states that have failed to regulate this practice.

Many times expensive phone calls create a barrier between a prisoner and their family’s ability to stay connected and provide crucial support for loved ones. Luckily for Duran, she and her partner live in one of the eight reformed states that have ended the practice of commissions. New Mexico’s rates are relatively low; prisoners are charged roughly$.20 a minute to talk with loved ones. “The only way that our family stays together and stands out is that she has someone to call on the outs who loves her,” said Duran in a video recorded last year by the Media Literacy Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Really that’s the only way we have to stay in contact, through the PCS phone system.” For Duran’s partner and others behind bars, phone calls can mean the difference between maintaining relationships that make leading a healthy life outside of prison or falling into a cycle of moving in and out of prison.

Research suggests that prisoners who maintain contact with family or friends fare better upon release than those who do not maintain contact. A 2005 report by the Anne E. Casey Foundation found that families are a person’s first and last resort for housing and support when released from prison. The prison system considers a prisoner’s return home to their parents, children, partner or other family members to be the primary reentry plan upon release. It’s crucial that prisoners maintain connections with loved ones for support and to adequately prepare for reentry into their communities upon release. Whether or not a system ensures that prisoners are adequately prepared for reentry has an impact on whether or not they will return to the system.

The average U.S. recidivism rate lingers around 40 percent. According to a survey conducted by Pew and the Associate of State Correctional Administrators, 43 percent of released prisoners in 2004 were re-incarcerated within 3 years for new offenses or parole violations. Between 1973 and 2009, the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than 10 percent of adults behind bars.

Not only do high incarceration and recidivism rates affect families, they also affect taxpayers whose taxes fund a portion of state prison budgets, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Annual state and federal spending on corrections exploded by 305 percent, or 52 billion people, during the past two decades. During that same period, corrections spending doubled as a share of state funding and accounts for 1 in 14 general state fund dollars, according to the Pew Center on the States.

These astonishing trends incited various prison justice advocacy efforts and drew the attention of conservative lawmakers whose shrinking budgets have caused them to re-evaluate how correction dollars are spent. For example, South Carolina’s prison population tripled over 25 years and was projected to grow by more than 3,200 inmates by 2014. Conservative groups like Right on Crime, a partnership between the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Pat Nolan Prison Fellowship,worked on passing a prison reform package along with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The initiative ultimately gained the support of justice advocacy groups like the ACLU.

Prison reform advocates recognized that over half of the state’s population was incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. They found that the state could save $350 million by adjusting sentences for nonviolent offenses and targeting barriers prisoners face upon release. Within the past years, all 19 states that cut their imprisonment rates also experienced a decline in their crime rates, according to the Pew Center. It’s clear that a dollar invested in rehabilitation yields a greater return by keeping released prisoners out of the system and reducing the correction costs for states over time.

Congress also targeted this country’s high recidivism rate by passing the Second Chance Act in 2008. This piece of legislation authorizes government funds for nonprofits and agencies that would improve the conditions facing prisoners upon their release. These programs use resources for housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, continuing education and family programming. Reducing recidivism saves taxpayer dollars in the long run and reduces prison populations which would alleviate a prison system’s dependence on funds collected from commissions.

A policy reform that should be addressed by both states and the FCC is ensuring that prisoners can stay connected with the loved ones by keeping phone costs low. Other states can follow the lead of the eight reformed states and outlaw the practice of commissions. The FCC can also regulate interstate phone rates which would lower the costs for families, enabling them to stay better connected. “Throughout the time I was in the system I had a really strong support system with my family,” said Duran. “The only way I could stay in contact with my family was through the phone.” She was released in 2002 and has been able to stay out of the detention system.

Author: Leticia Miranda, Clarissa Ramon
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