Tag Archives: Detection

FCC Takes Up Technology Solutions To Contraband Cell Phones

FCC-contraband-cell-phonesThe FCC today issued FCC 13-58, Contraband Wireless Device Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), to “remove barriers to the deployment and viability of existing and future technologies used to combat contraband wireless devices.” The NPRM discusses current technologies such as managed access, detection, jamming and wireless carrier service termination of identified contraband cell phones.

Below are excerpts from the rulemaking document:

Inmate use of contraband wireless devices has grown within the federal and state prison systems parallel to the growth of wireless device use by the general public. In federal institutions and prison camps, GAO reports that the number of cell phones confiscated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) grew from 1,774 in 2008 to 3,684 in 2010. While not all states track or report data on the use of contraband wireless devices, the data that has been reported demonstrates significant growth. For example, California correctional officers seized approximately 261 cell phones in 2006; by 2011, correctional officers discovered more than 15,000 contraband wireless devices. Further, a test of an interdiction technology in two California State prisons detected more than 25,000 unauthorized communication attempts over an 11 day period in 2011. A similar interdiction system permanently installed in a Mississippi correctional facility reportedly blocked 325,000 communications attempts in the first month of operation, and as of February 2012, had blocked more than 2 million communications attempts.

In this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice), we take steps to facilitate the development of multiple technological solutions to combat the use of contraband wireless devices in correctional facilities nationwide. Prisoners’ use of contraband wireless devices to engage in criminal activity is a serious threat to the safety of prison employees, other prisoners, and the general public. Through this Notice, we seek to remove barriers to the deployment and viability of existing and future technologies used to combat contraband wireless devices. In this Notice, “contraband wireless device” refers to any wireless device, including the physical hardware or part of a device – such as a subscriber identification module (SIM) – that is used within a correctional facility without authorization by the correctional authority. We use the phrase “correctional facility” to refer to any facility operated or overseen by federal, state, or local authorities that houses or holds prisoners for any period of time.

We propose a series of modifications to the Commission’s rules to facilitate spectrum lease agreements between wireless providers and providers or operators of managed access systems used to combat contraband wireless devices. Those proposed modifications are:

  • Revising the Commission’s rules to immediately process de facto lease agreements or spectrum manager lease agreements for spectrum used exclusively in managed access systems in correctional facilities, and streamlining other aspects of the lease application or notification review process for those managed access systems in correctional facilities.
  • Forbearing, to the extent necessary, from the individualized application review and public notice requirements of Sections 308, 309, and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Act), for qualifying managed access leases.
  • Establishing a presumption that managed access operators provide a private mobile radio service (PMRS), streamlining the process for seeking Special Temporary Authority (STA) to operate a managed access system, and seeking comment on whether to establish a requirement that managed access providers provide notice to nearby households and businesses prior to activation of a managed access system.

We also propose to require wireless providers to terminate service, if technically feasible, to a contraband wireless device if an authorized correctional facility official notifies the wireless provider of the presence of the contraband wireless device within the correctional facility. We seek comment on the elements of the proposed notification and termination process, including who should be authorized to transmit a termination notification to the wireless provider, the form of such termination notice, and any safeguards necessary to ensure that service to legitimate wireless devices is not inadvertently terminated. We seek comment on the implication of our proposals on detection and managed access system operators’ compliance with or liability under Section 705 of the Act and federal law governing the use of pen registers or trap and trace devices. Finally, while we are limiting our proposals to managed access and detection solutions, we nevertheless invite comment on other technological approaches for addressing the problem of contraband wireless device usage in correctional facilities.

Further on in the document, it discusses managed access systems and some of the current deployments in state prison systems:

Managed access systems are micro-cellular, private networks that analyze transmissions to and from wireless devices to determine whether the device is authorized or unauthorized for purposes of accessing public carrier networks. Managed access systems utilize base stations that are optimized to capture all voice, text, and data communications within the system coverage area, which would be a correctional facility in the instant case. When a wireless device attempts to connect to the network from within the coverage area of the managed access system, the system cross-checks the identifying information of the device against a database that lists wireless devices authorized to operate in the coverage area. Authorized devices are allowed to communicate normally (i.e., transmit and receive voice, text, and data) with the commercial wireless network, while transmissions to or from unauthorized devices are terminated. The managed access system may also provide an alert to the user notifying the user that the device is unauthorized. The systems provide operational flexibility to the correctional facility administrators by allowing them to disable devices without having to physically remove them.

A correctional facility or third party at a correctional facility may operate a managed access system if authorized by the Commission. This authorization has to date involved agreements with the wireless providers serving the geographic area including the correctional facility and lease applications approved by the Commission. A number of deployments and trials have been conducted or are ongoing, as listed below.

  • California The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has conducted trials of managed access systems at two state prisons. Based on the results of the trials, the California Technology Agency issued an Invitation for Bids for a prime contractor to provide a pay telephone system for inmates and wards and a managed access systems in correctional facilities across the state. The CDCR awarded the contract in April 2012 to Global Tel*Link (GTL), and its managed access operator has received experimental authorization to test a managed access system in nine facilities.
  • Maryland The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) conducted an in-depth analysis of contraband cell phone interdiction technologies in 2009. Maryland DPSCS conducted trials of various non-jamming technologies at a decommissioned correctional facility in Jessup, Maryland, and a real-world study of non-jamming technologies in three commissioned correctional facilities. Maryland DPSCS subsequently issued a Request for Proposals for the installation of managed access and detection systems in all of its prisons, and granted a contract to Tecore Networks (Tecore) to install a managed access system in the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore City, Maryland.
  • Mississippi In 2010, the Mississippi Department of Corrections deployed a managed access system at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison in Parchman, Mississippi. In its first month of operation, the system blocked a total of 325,000 call and message attempts, and has prevented more than 2 million calls and text messages through February 2012.
  • South Carolina South Carolina has conducted trials of a managed access system at its Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, South Carolina. The Commission has approved several spectrum leases sought by ShawnTech Communications (ShawnTech) for a permanent installation at the Lieber Correctional Institution, and the system is operational.
  • Texas The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced in late 2012 that it would install managed access systems in two state correctional facilities. The Commission has approved a number of spectrum leases for ShawnTech for the managed access installations.
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Detection Dog “Sniffs Out” Cell Phones Behind Bars

This news video discusses the use of a cell phone-sniffing dog, appropriately named, “Sprint”, to find smuggled contraband cell phones in Oregon prisons. The video includes a demonstration of Sprint’s skills at the Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem.

Within seconds of the start of the demonstration, Sprint honed in on the scent of a cell phone hidden under an inmate’s pillow. According to the report, “High-end electronics such as cell phones have a unique odor. He’s not listening for sound, it’s not anything else. It’s all odor based.”

Interestingly, given the popularity and prevalence of contraband wireless phones, Sprint has yet to locate an inmate-smuggled phone. The meshDETECT secure cell phone solution uses uniquely identifiable cell phones so that they can be differentiated from contraband cell phones.

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Prisoners’ Cell Phone Use On The Rise At FBOP

According to this article, the GAO has just released a study on the use of contraband cell phones in federal prisons. However the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) has not put in place or developed evaluation plans to measure the effectiveness of new technologies to address the smuggled cell phone problem.

In fact, according to the GAO report, “BOP has a policy, called Pilot Initiatives, Approval and Evaluation, that identifies numerous criteria that should be followed when implementing and evaluating pilot programs. The policy includes practices such as defining goals and objectives, developing an evaluation plan, describing costs for the program, and identifying advantages and disadvantages related to a broader implementation of the technology, all of which align with established best practices. According to OST officials, however, they have not designated the testing phase of any cell phone technologies as “a pilot” by the definition included in their policy, and OST does not apply the policy to any of their testing. In our view, BOP could benefit by using its pilot initiative-evaluation criteria as a best practice when evaluating cell phone detection tests to better inform”

We would like to suggest the FBOP consider a Pilot Initiative to test the efficiency of the meshDETECT secure cell phone solution to reduce contraband cell phone demand.

Update (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.

Over the last three years, the number of contraband cell phones seized in federal prisons and minimum-security facilities has quadrupled, according to a report issued by the General Accountability Office.

Corrections officials have been alarmed by the trend because prisoners can make unmonitored calls and can continue criminal activities while behind bars. The Bureau of Prisons needs to do a better job of evaluating technologies to detect the phones, the report says.

In 2008, 1,774 cell phones were seized. By the end of 2010 that number had skyrocketed to 8,656. The report looked at the issue in federal prisons as well as institutions in eight states. The numbers were not complete for all the states, but in California 900 phones were discovered in 2007 and a whopping 10,700 were found in 2010.

Authorities told the GAO that “a combination of easier access to cheaper cell phones, better awareness by staff conducting contraband searches and better collection of intelligence have all contributed to these increases, but it is difficult to determine how much each factor has resulted in increased cell phone confiscations.”

Prison officials have been trying out new technologies to detect inmates using cellular devices. But the report says the Bureau of Prisons “has not developed evaluation plans to measure the effectiveness of these tests.” The GAO also said the Bureau should share more information with state prison officials about promising technologies.

The report was completed in July but an edited version was not made available to the public until Tuesday. Details about how inmates manage to get the phones and the technologies used to detect them were taken out. But the document does say the Bureau of Prisons has tried out a radio frequency sensor system in two institutions. The sensors show when a cell phone is being used and shows the approximate location of the phone on a computer screen.

CTIA-the Wireless Association issued a statement saying the GAO did not recommend jamming cell phone signals, an action the group opposes. GAO official David Maurer said GAO was not asked to assess any particular technology for countering cell phone use by prisoners.

In federal prisons, more than three-quarters of the phones were seized in minimum-security prison camps rather than facilities housing more dangerous inmates.

But when dangerous inmates had access to phones, the consequences often were grave. The report says in 2007 an inmate at a Maryland detention center ordered the murder of a witness to his crimes using a contraband phone. In another instance from 2008, a death row inmate in a Texas state prison used a cell phone to threaten a state senator and his family.

Some inmates run illegal businesses to make money. The GAO report says in January 2011 an inmate at a federal prison was sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison for operating an identity theft ring with the crucial help of a cell phone.

The GAO report also provides details on the costs prisoners typically pay to make sanctioned phone calls to family and friends. The GAO says “some prison advocates believe that inmates are increasingly using contraband phones because of the rates correctional institutions charge for telephone service.”

However, the GAO says being able to make calls that aren’t monitored by prison officials allows inmates to engage in crime.


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No Single Solution To Illegal Cell Phones In Prison

The following editorial is a response to one written earlier regarding contraband prison cell phone signal jamming. In it the author, an official of the Maryland DOC states, “Corrections systems must invest, innovate, develop partnerships and educate themselves in order to gain the necessary capabilities to fight this problem.” This is very true, but all the approaches he mentions are related to smuggled cell phone interdiction and detection. None of the solutions contemplate proactively reducing the contraband value of smuggled cell phones by offering prisoners a secure cell phone solution in order to siphon off legitimate usage (prisoners who simply want to stay in touch with friends and family) and thereby reduce the contraband value of smuggled wireless phones. It is time for DOC officials to consider addressing the root cause of the problem (demand) in a addition to spending money on detection and interdiction.

Terry Bittner’s assertion that cell phones in Maryland’s prisons are an issue is correct. This is an issue in every state. His assertion that Maryland is focusing on a single solution — cell phone blocking — is inaccurate. And his insinuation that we are not doing enough is wrong (“Cell phone blocking isn’t the only answer for Md. Prisons,” June 15).

There is no one single solution to meeting the challenge of illegal cell phones in prisons. In the absence of jamming, which is generally illegal in the United States, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has conducted more than 20 months of research on all available technologies to better understand which cellular detection, managed access or jamming applications would work best in our prisons. This includes a multi-vendor pilot demonstration in the summer of 2009 and several subsequent long term single-vendor pilots.

But not waiting on a technological solution, we have attacked and significantly slowed the flow of cell phones on several fronts including: developing better intelligence, investing in better entrance and scanning technology, innovating approaches like using cell phone sniffingdogs, and data mining interdicted cell phones to help local prosecutors build better cases on inmates found with phones.

Better intelligence has made gang communication within our prisons increasingly more difficult and has become integral to gaining convictions for many Black Guerilla Family gang members in the past two years (alluded to by Mr. Bittner). Our $1.1 million entrance scanning technology has increased the percentage of cell phones captured before they make it inside our prisons by more than 10 percent through April of fiscal year 2011 compared to fiscal year 2010; our dogs have found almost 500 phones since 2008; and with our new forensics intelligence gathering abilities we are seeing close to a 90 percent conviction rate in the cell phone cases states’ attorneys are now taking to court.

None of this is guaranteed to stop all cell phones from getting into our prisons, but it has decreased the flow — by 32 percent in 2010 compared to 2009. But more importantly, these targeted efforts have helped make our prisons safer for staff and offenders. Serious assaults on staff have fallen by 50 percent from 2007 to 2010. On offenders they have fallen 35 percent.

Corrections systems must invest, innovate, develop partnerships and educate themselves in order to gain the necessary capabilities to fight this problem. Maryland has become a national leader in cell phone interdiction, and our efforts have been reported on by media here in Maryland and nationally.

Mr. Bittner’s comments misrepresent and cloud the exhaustive efforts we have made, not only to slow the flow of cell phones inside our prisons, but also to identify truly effective anti-cellular technologies and the best practices of their use.

Gary D. Maynard

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.


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Keeping Cell Phones Out of Jail Cells

This article discusses how as prisons try to block unauthorized cell phone use, companies are developing systems that cost over $1 million to address the problem. This is cost that will be passed on to the taxpayer if prisons adopt this technology. By adopting the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution, prisons and taxpayers will avoid this cost and reduce prison cell phone smuggling and the value of contraband prison cell phones.

The Bloods street gang is a known distributor. Charles Manson has had at least two. In April, one was used to start a riot in an Alabama prison. Much to the chagrin of corrections officials nationwide, inmates have discovered the advantages of using mobile phones to coordinate escapes, intimidate witnesses, and order retaliation against other prisoners.

Although there are no nationwide statistics, in California alone more than 10,000 contraband phones were confiscated from inmates in 2010, up from 1,400 in 2007. In Mississippi, authorities grabbed more than 4,000 handsets from prisoners last year, up 43 percent from 2009. “Illegal cell phones are probably the largest public-safety risk prisons are facing nationally,” says Terri McDonald, chief deputy secretary of California’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Dept.

Those worries have spurred nearly a dozen companies to develop electronic devices that jam signals, find phones, or block calls from unapproved numbers. “The only way to eliminate the threat is to physically capture the cell phone from the inmate,” says Terry Bittner, director of security products for ITT Defense & Information Solutions. The McLean (Va.) company makes a device called the Cell Hound that detects phone signals and pinpoints their location within a radius of 21 feet.

Cell phone jammers are already used by prisons in Mexico, France, Australia, and elsewhere. In the U.S., though, phone jamming is illegal (except when done by a federal agency) under a 1934 law that prohibits deliberately interfering with radio signals. A bill that would have allowed prisons to jam cell phone signals was passed by the U.S. Senate in 2009 but died in a House committee. Representative Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) plans to reintroduce a similar measure this spring. “We have the technology to block illegal cell phone calls,” Brady says. “We just need to remove government roadblocks to be able to use it.”

Carriers and wireless industry trade groups oppose prison jamming. They say it would interfere with cell phone communications outside the walls. “In seeking solutions to one problem, we must be careful not to create additional problems that could adversely impact the reliability or dependability of … service,” says Joseph Marx, an AT&T (T) assistant vice-president who works on regulatory issues.

As an alternative, AT&T and others suggest “managed access” technology. Such systems establish a radio-frequency umbrella around a prison that intercepts signals from wireless devices. The system checks each cell phone number to see whether it’s on an approved list. If it’s not, the call is blocked. Since the technology doesn’t interfere with legitimate cell phone calls, it’s not barred by the 1934 law.

Last August the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, 130 miles north of Jackson, installed the first such system in the U.S. So far the technology, by Tecore Networks of Columbia, Md., has blocked more than a million attempted calls and texts by inmates while allowing guards and other approved users to make calls, corrections officials say. The state plans to deploy the system at two more prisons this spring. “I’ve searched high and low and I haven’t seen anything better than managed access to deal with illegal cell phones,” says Christopher Epps, commissioner of the Mississippi Corrections Dept. “This is the future for prisons.”

Following the March escape of an inmate who used a smuggled handset to arrange his getaway, the Texas Criminal Justice Dept. is evaluating both managed-access technology and simpler systems that locate cell phones for its 112 prisons. California corrections officials are testing similar systems at two prisons, and they eventually hope to deploy equipment to combat cell phone use by inmates across the state soon. “We’re seeing interest in our technology from prisons all over the country,” says Howard Melamed, chief executive officer of CellAntenna, a Coral Springs (Fla.) company that makes jammers and managed access systems. The company’s gear is being used in Australia, but CellAntenna has yet to make any sales to U.S. prisons.

A big problem, says Melamed, is paying for such systems. Jammers cost more than $30,000 per building, while managed access runs from $400,000 to more than $1 million for a typical prison. ITT Defense’s Cell Hound detection system ranges from about $20,000 for a small facility to $600,000 for a larger prison.

Some jailers prefer lower-tech solutions. Prisons in more than a half-dozen states search for hidden handsets with dogs that can sniff out the chemicals in phone batteries; in Maryland, as word of the dogs has spread among inmates, cell phone seizures have dropped from 1,600 in 2009 to 1,100 last year. And officials at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California have confiscated just a dozen or so handsets from inmates since 2006, fewer than any other major prison in the state. Pelican Bay’s remote location, it seems, means the facility suffers from something many outside the walls surely rue: lousy cell phone coverage.


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Alabama Senate Approves Bill to Keep Cell Phones From Prison Inmates

According to this news article, possession of contraband prison cell phones will be a felony in Alabama prisons and prison cell phone detection technology will be allowed if an Alabama bill passes. Rather than spend state funds on prison cell phone jammers, Alabama should consider a secure prison cell phone solution such as meshDETECT.

A Senate committee today approved a bill that would give the state Department of Corrections new powers to keep cell phones out of the hands of prison inmates.

The bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee in the wake of an inmate uprising at the Holman Correctional Facility on April 5 that was sparked by a dispute over a cell phone, which is considered contraband.

Jeffery Williams, deputy commissioner of governmental relations for the prison system, said the bill would give the agency the authority to contract with a communications company to detect cell phone communications from prisons.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen R-Cottondale, would have elevated possession of a cell phone from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony.

After Chairman Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, expressed concerns over a heightened penalty, Allen agreed to amend the bill to make possession of a cell phone a Class A misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $6,000 fine.

Williams said the incident at Holman occurred when a correctional officer attempted to take a cell phone away from an inmate.

The incident escalated into a disturbance during which inmates seized control of one wing of the maximum security prison for about four hours. It took a prison system tactical team using tear gas to quell the disturbance.

Williams said that, after the disturbance, the department was informed by Escambia County officials that the county’s 9-1-1 system had been receiving “a huge volume” of calls that were traced back to cell phones in four prisons in the area.

“This is an important piece of legislation that will give us an opportunity to address this issue that’s a huge problem for the Department of Corrections,” he said. “Cell phones are smuggled in our facilities and we believe there is technology out there that will detect these cell phones within the system and disrupt these cell phones.”

Williams said the department already has confiscated 5,000 cell phones.


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Cell Phones as Prison Contraband

This is an excerpt from the FBI report “Cell Phones as Prison Contraband,” from the July 2010 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

It paints a compelling picture of the problems of contraband cell phones in prisons. The first reaction to a seemingly uncontrollable situation is often an extreme or complicated approach. In the case of contraband prison cell phones, it appears easiest to simply jam and block signals. The success of this approach is limited at best, and the ongoing expense and complexity of managing, administering, and upgrading systems introduces one thing that no one wants – more expense. meshDETECT offers an alternative solution. One that benefits detainees, families, guards, prisons and the state.

An inmate escaped from a Kansas prison allegedly with the aid of a phone smuggled in by an accomplice. In Texas, a death row inmate charged with killing four persons, including two teenage girls, allegedly used a wireless phone from within the prison to threaten a prominent state senator and his family. These incidents serve as just two examples where individuals used cell phones to facilitate criminal acts from within a correctional institution.

The authors have examined the real and potential dangers that inmate wireless phone possession poses not only to prison and jail personnel and other prisoners but to the community at large. Their study focused particularly on the methods of concealment, as well as prevention strategies, including detection and proposed legislation, to minimize the harm of cell phone use by inmates.

Possession by Prisoners
A study of Kentucky correctional personnel found that 92.2 percent believed that inmates should have telephone privileges. At least one court has suggested that prisoners may have a right to access. However, it is important to acknowledge that this right has limitations. Restrictions may not only limit the number of persons an inmate may call but dictate that none of the individuals have a criminal record. As a general matter, correctional staff may monitor inmate calls when “pursuant to a policy statement” and when prisoners receive “reasonable notice that monitoring of telephone conversations might occur” (although a different analysis likely would apply to legal communications).

Finally, authorities may impose restrictions on telephone use based on the security level in which an inmate is housed. Even despite such limitations, inmate telephone use sometimes may facilitate criminal activity. A recent report concluded that “a significant number of inmates use prison telephones to commit serious crimes.” While prisoners may use their cell phones for benign purposes, such as maintaining contact with family and friends, the devices also may provide inmates with an avenue for conducting criminal activity without concerns about the restrictions imposed on landline telephone use.

Seriousness of the Problem

Cell phones represent the latest concern in authorities’ constant struggle against prison and jail contraband. Inmates smuggle them into facilities in increasing numbers. For example, in 2008, approximately 2,800 devices were confiscated by California officials alone. During a massive search in a Texas institution, authorities recovered approximately 300 wireless phones, including 18 from death row inmates.

The problem of smuggled devices in prisons occurs worldwide. Authorities in India confiscated more than 600 cell phones in a Gujarat facility. Guards at the Danilio Pinherio prison in Brazil discovered that inmates used pigeons to fly phones and related parts in and out of the institution; prisoners there allegedly have used wireless phones to coordinate a wave of assaults on law enforcement agencies, banks, and public buses, killing hundreds of people.

One Maryland official stated, “Cell phones are perhaps the worst type of contraband because, in most cases, they provide an easy, continuing connection back to the inmate’s life on the street—the type of lifestyle that led to them being incarcerated.”13 Prisoners have used them to, for example, intimidate and threaten witnesses; transmit photographs, including offensive pictures sent to victims; orchestrate crimes, such as gang activity; coordinate escapes; bribe prison officers; order retaliation against other inmates; text other prisoners; gain access to the Internet; and create security breaches.

Concealment by Inmates

Prisoners have creative methods of concealing cell phones and related contraband, such as subscriber identity module (SIM) cards used to store phone numbers and text messages. For instance, authorities have found devices hidden under mattresses; concealed by wrist watches; and contained inside body cavities, rice and cereal containers, false bottoms of boxes, hollowed out books, toilets, televisions, radios, light fixtures, portable fans, socks, and duffle bags. Visitors and employees also smuggle wireless phones and related paraphernalia into prisons. In some cases, staff members have accepted bribes, usually for several hundred dollars per device, from inmates to sneak cell phones into facilities. For example, one correctional officer reported earning more than $100,000 by charging prisoners $100 to $400 per device. Smuggled wireless phones also provide a source of additional income to inmates who charge other prisoners up to $50 for each call placed.

Detection by Authorities
As a result of the influx of wireless phones within facilities, officials have taken aggressive measures to detect them. Authorities have implemented not only random cell inspections but perimeter searches. In one case, officials discovered wireless devices outside a perimeter fence and determined that a makeshift launcher catapulted them over the prison wall. Some institutions have used traditional security measures, such as metal detectors; X-ray technology; and routine searches of staff, visitors, and contractors, to detect cell phones. Officials also have used body orifice security scanner (BOSS) systems to detect cell phones and parts concealed in body cavities.

An innovative proactive approach to detection is the use of dogs. For instance, as part of their crackdown on cell phone possession by inmates, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services uses canines trained specifically to detect wireless devices, including even the small SIM cards, which is important because prisoners often store them separately, “minimizing the loss in case a phone is seized.” The use of dogs to sniff out cell phones has proved quite successful. According to one report, “In fiscal year 2008, 849 cell phones were found within the facility or intercepted outside of the facility on prison grounds at 24 facilities….”

Some agencies have begun to use electronic cell phone detection systems, which can indicate to security staff when a device is in use in a facility. Some such systems rely on wireless sensors to detect phone signals. Others may be hardwired within a facility. Although effective, use of these technologies requires start-up costs.

Jamming and Legal Considerations
“Jamming is a radio frequency (RF) technology used to disrupt cell phone signals.” Along with denial of service and passive interception, this may seem like an attractive possibility; however, it is illegal unless done pursuant to specific authorization. As noted in section 333 of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Act of 1934, “[N]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications.” The penalty specified for jamming is a maximum fine of $11,000 per day and the potential for criminal prosecution. Some states, as well as Washington, D.C., have requested that the FCC revisit its anti-jamming policy.

Currently, Congress is examining the possibility of permitting the proactive use of jamming to prevent inmates’ use of cellphones in correctional institutions. One bill under consideration would allow “state governors or the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to petition the FCC to permit mobile jamming in prisons.” Despite successful testing of jamming technology that blocked only the targeted signals in prison settings around the globe, inadvertent interference with legitimate cell phone service does pose a real concern. For instance, jamming at one institution disabled cell phone service to approximately 200,000 nearby residents. Also important to consider is how jamming might interfere with public safety. For instance, jamming technology could affect police radio and cell phone reception in the event of an emergency response or the transmission of vital information. In one situation, a school system jammer used to prevent students from using their cell phones during class incapacitated a sheriff’s cross-band repeater. This posed a danger during an active SWAT team activity. Additionally, of course, the same technology that prohibits inmates from using wireless phones also would prevent correctional personnel from doing the same for routine business or in the event of an emergency.

Additional Concerns

Some inmates prefer wireless phones so they can bypass telephone monitoring systems within the prison. Cell phones provide them a means of private communication with minimal oversight by authorities. Further, inmates argue that wireless phones are less expensive than pay phones for maintaining contact with family. Additionally, according to some defense attorneys, the use of cell phones merely is a method for prisoners to communicate with family members who live in locations where pay phones do not currently exist. It is unlikely that such a claim would be sustained in court, as cell phone restrictions more likely would be viewed as “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” A more practical concern to correctional administrators is financial, as inmate telephone use generates agency revenue. For instance, a 1995 study found that such income totaled $96.4 million for 31 state correctional agencies.

This problem likely will not disappear in the near future. However, effective prevention strategies and workable policies can help minimize it. First, correctional institutions need to continue their vigilance toward detection of smuggling and possession of the devices by prisoners, using both traditional and innovative methods (e.g., canines). Second, if jamming becomes legal, research on the usage of these technologies should continue. Third, jurisdictions should consider criminalizing inmate cell phone possession, rather than treating it as ordinary contraband; officials in California have introduced such a bill. Finally, authorities should encourage the use of technology as a prevention and detection strategy for cell phones in prisons.

At one time, drugs and tobacco served as the contraband of choice by prisoners. Now, wireless phones are becoming popular. Correctional personnel must maintain excellent intelligence gathering and uphold effective practices to minimize the dangers posed by inmate wireless phone possession. Prisoners have smuggled cell phones into institutions and used them for various purposes, some illegal and even dangerous. However, the authors feel that authorities can implement effective strategies that can successfully minimize the problem and help protect jail and prison personnel, other inmates, and the public.

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