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Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs

wireless-prison-payphoneHere 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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Becoming iPrison

An article on the problems of contraband smuggling in Indiana jails discusses the unique problems posed by contraband smartphones and the access to the internet they provide prisoners. That internet access is used to update social media sites such as Facebook. The custom meshDETECT secure prison cell phones do not allow internet or social media application access.

While tobacco and drugs are still popular forms of contraband among inmates, cellphones – especially smartphones – are becoming a bane to prison officials across the nation.

The number of phones confiscated in federal prison doubled from 2008 through 2010, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Law enforcement’s biggest fear might be a case like Wesley Hammond’s – someone able to operate a drug ring or coordinate other illegal activities while behind bars.

But a new recurring problem in Indiana and other states involves prisoners having access to social media like Facebook.

Indiana prison inmates are not allowed access to the Internet, but this year one inmate serving time for murder was found to be updating his Facebook page – and discovered by his victim’s family, no less.

Officials learned that someone on the outside was updating that particular inmate’s Facebook page and he was not doing it himself.

Still, that’s a violation of Facebook policy, and the inmate’s page was removed, Garrison said.

But others are using smartphones to access the Internet.

“The smartphones are a big problem for us,” Douglas Garrison, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Correction said. “We’re seeing photographs from offenders dumb enough to put their photos on their Facebook page.”

According to Garrison, prison officials find about one or two Facebook pages created by inmates – or one of their family members for them – each month.

Prison officials are working with Facebook to scrub away any page belonging to an inmate.

And the fact that inmate profiles appear on Facebook or other websites shows that items are still getting in – whether it’s a cellphone hidden in a book or a package or a bundle of tobacco dumped over the prison fence late at night.

“What that tells you, that despite our best efforts, we’re still having things trafficked into our joint,” Garrison said.


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Social Media Helps Prisoners Illegally Communicate

Using contraband cell phones to communicate via social media is increasingly a problem in prisons around the country. Cell phones equipped with internet access and cameras give prisoners the ability to access and post updates and images on Facebook and Twitter. As this article states, cell phones are “contraband that can fetch $1,000 in prison, or $100 to borrow for one call.”

The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution blocks internet and camera access on its custom cell phone devices.

Damon Valery logged his holiday wishes early last year, in a Facebook posting Dec. 1. “This is the worst part of the year 4 me cause of the holidays,” Valery wrote, “so i’m saying happy holidays now cause i don’t know when i’ll b back!”

Valery had been serving a 25-year-to-life sentence since 1999, and was transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad last August. He was convicted of killing Dante Jones, his girlfriend’s 2-year-old nephew.

On March 6, Valery was found unresponsive in his cell and transported to Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, where he died shortly after. The prison’s investigative service unit is looking into his death as a possible homicide.

“Compared 2 some of the madness that’s going on in the world my situation ain’t that bad,” Valery wrote on his Facebook wall April 1 last year, “because somewhere, somebody lost their life or least didn’t get 2 eat!!”

That harsh irony is exaggerated by the fact that Valery’s affectionate, if sporadic, posts to friends and relatives were illegal. He posted using a mobile device – contraband that can fetch $1,000 in prison, or $100 to borrow for one call.

Communications in prison are closely watched. Phone calls are capped at 15 minutes, recorded and interrupted by a voice alert reminding interlocutors they’re on the phone with an inmate. Similarly, all outgoing mail is stamped to identify its origination point, so recipients can discard unwanted letters.

“A lot of people would choose not to talk to an inmate,” Salinas Valley State Prison spokesman Lt. Michael Nilsson says. “I think it’s important that people know who they’re talking to. It’s not the same as on the streets, where you meet someone at a night club.”

But cell phone use in California prisons has been rapidly rising, with 1,400 phones discovered in 2007 and more than 15,000 found in 2011. In response, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 26 late last fall, making it a misdemeanor to possess a phone in prison, and to smuggle one in.

Prison staff continue to conduct random contraband searches to detect phones, and deploy dogs trained to sniff out prohibited items, including cell phones.

Law enforcement officers on the outside are also keeping an increasingly watchful eye on social media. Where police once prowled the streets for crime tips, they can now surf the web.

“It’s on a catch-as-catch-can basis,” says Salinas Interim Police Chief Cassie McSorley. “We’re not making cases every week off of social media, but it’s just one more tool that’s being used.”

Salinas police regularly watch YouTube videos posted by Salinas gangs, but got one of its most serious crime tips via Facebook last week.

Salinas City Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa’s 23-year-old son, Gabriel Reyes, was arrested March 5 after Gang Task Force members saw a gun for sale posted on his publicly visible Facebook wall. He’s been charged with unlicensed sale of a firearm, marijuana possession, a probation violation and carrying a concealed weapon.

McSorley says social media hasn’t changed what cops do, but it has affected how they do it, and how fast. “We have to adapt our methodology and investigation techniques,” she says. “We used to meet people in a dark alley. Now everybody has a cell phone.”


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Inmates Caught With Cell Phones To Lose All Privileges

An article discussing the steps the Mississippi DOC is taking to address the supply of contraband cell phones in its prisons. According the Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, “Cell phones are the biggest contraband items that we have. It’s a national problem in corrections.”

The article also discuss the managed access wireless signal jammer installed at the Parchman facility. The system has blocked about 1.8 million illegal cell phone calls and text messages. The system recently was upgraded to manage 3G technology, and a full-time managed access technician has been hired to maintain and monitor it.

The sheer volume of phone calls intercepted speaks to the fact that the vast majority of usage is most likely inmates communicating with family and loved ones. While smuggled cell phones are used for criminal activity, it is clear that a significant percentage, if not most, of the 1.8 million calls intercepted are not made with criminal intent. We believe there is a significant revenue, safety and behavior management opportunity in offering a secure prison cell phone solution to address this unmet desire for enhanced communications with friends and family.

Download our whitepaper to learn how the meshDETECT solution works.

State prisoners caught with cell phones or any cell phone component in Mississippi will soon face harsher punishment.

Loss of six months’ trusty time already is among the penalties.

But starting next month, “Zero Privilege Units” will begin at each of the state’s three prisons.

Inmates caught with cell phones will lose all privileges. Also, they won’t be allowed to purchase items from the commissary, the prison store, and they won’t be allowed to use the regular prison phone.

“We realize we have a problem and we are doing something about it,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said. “This will send a strong message.”

MDOC’s confiscation of at least 3,400 cell phones from inmates and Facebook pages created using smartphones from behind prison walls are behind the increased discipline, despite best efforts to keep cell phones out.

Cell phones are “the biggest contraband items that we have,” said Epps, who has been cited nationally for his efforts to prevent illicit use of cell phones in the country’s correctional facilities. ” It’s a national problem in corrections.”

Over the last two years, at least two murderers were updating their Facebook pages from behind prison walls in Mississippi using smartphone technology on cellphones smuggled into them.

Last year, MDOC had 70 Facebook pages deactivated.

In October, MDOC officials contacted Facebook’s corporate office and asked that murderer Jonathan Davis’ account be deactivated.

Until that point, Davis, 27, had been on the page and updating it since he arrived at the State Penitentiary at Parchman in 2004. Davis was convicted of 2002 capital murder in Lauderdale County.

In November 2010, MDOC officials also had another convicted killer’s Facebook page deactivated.

William Joseph Hogan, 30, had been corresponding on his Facebook page since he was sent to prison in 2009. Hogan was convicted of the 2008 murder of his wife in DeSoto County. Family members of the victim alerted prison officials to Hogan’s Facebook page.

Around the country, there have been reports of inmates using Facebook to contact victims, make sexual advances, or in some cases, to plan crimes.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes has said the social networking site will work with law enforcement and other officials to shut down inmate Facebook pages.

Janice Howard, whose son was killed in 2007, said she applauds Epps’ efforts to get cellphones out of the hands of inmates.

“No, they shouldn’t have that right. They gave up the right by the crimes they committed,” Howard said.

Shawn States, 25, the man who killed Justin Howard and his friend, Antoine Reece, was convicted in 2010 of two counts of capital murder and is serving two life sentences without parole.

In August 2010, MDOC launched the first cell phone detection/management system in the nation at Parchman. The managed access system intercepts all incoming and outgoing cell phone signals and allows prison authorities to manage calls that are not allowed and those that are allowed by pre-entering the allowed cell phone numbers in the system.

Since its installation, the system has blocked about 1.8 million illegal cell phone calls and text message, Epps said. The system recently was upgraded to manage 3G technology, and a full-time managed access technician has been hired to maintain and monitor it.

MDOC is actively working with the vendor to install a manage access system at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl and South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville.

Epps said MDOC has undertaken other efforts to eradicate illegal cell phones, including:

•Weekly searches for WiFi Internet signals at all prisons.

•A body cavity detection system.

•K-9 cell phone detection dogs.

•Hand wand metal detectors.

•Walk-through metal detection systems.

•Increased searches of inmates and staff.

Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, has proposed legislation to increase the penalty for providing cell phones to inmates.

Senate Bill 2020, which has been referred to the Corrections Committee, would increase the maximum penalty from 15 years to 20 years.


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Facebook Profile For Prisoner Under Investigation

Yet another instance of a prisoner using a contraband cell phone with internet access to post on Facebook. The meshDETECT secure prison cell phones do not allow internet access.

The sister of a murder victim is calling for Indiana prison officials to remove a Facebook profile for an inmate at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle.

Quintez Deloney, 20, of New Albany, is serving a 38-year sentence for a burglary that led to the death of 26-year-old Lewis James of Charlestown. James’ sister, Lisa Cunningham, said she learned Saturday that Deloney has a Facebook page on which he appears to be posting from prison.

“It feels like five years ago all over again. It’s like everything just happened again,” Cunningham said. “[Deloney] shouldn’t have any freedom. Once you’re in prison, you lose all your rights.”

In January 2007, James was shot seven times — four times in the back — at an apartment on William O. Vance Court in New Albany where he went to buy drugs. Floyd County prosecutors alleged Deloney and Lance Douglas, 24, kicked down the door to the apartment and attempted to rob James. When James resisted, he was shot.

Although prosecutors argued Deloney was the shooter, the jury convicted Douglas of murder but found Deloney guilty of only robbery and burglary. Deloney was sentenced in May 2009 to 80 years in prison, but that was reduced after the Indiana Court of Appeals found he should not have been sentenced for both the robbery and burglary charges because of the double jeopardy provision.

Deloney, through his attorney Bruce Brightwell, has filed a motion to correct error with the court seeking to have his conviction overturned or sentence reduced. That matter is set for hearing March 9.

Deloney has been serving his time at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility since he was sentenced. A Facebook profile for “Quintez Q-Ball Deloney” has 184 friends. The first update on the page was July 17, 2011.

A post on the page includes Deloney’s prison mailing address. There are several posts about the case. On Oct. 11, he wrote that he was starting another appeal. On Oct. 15, he wrote, “beat anther case i feel like gotti did … BRR!”

In another message, he indicated he would be released in 2014 even though the Indiana Department of Correction lists his earliest possible release date as 2026. Most of the posts contain profanity and are not fit for publication in the News and Tribune.

At one point, someone asked how he had Facebook access in prison. He responded, “thats somethang thats kept secret!”

Susan Harrington, spokeswoman for Wabash Valley, said Cunningham’s complaint has been filed with internal affairs investigators. Harrington said Deloney will be disciplined if it is true that he has somehow been posting messages from prison.

Wabash Valley does not allow inmates to have cell phones, and Harrington said they have no Internet access through legal means inside the prison. Most of Deloney’s posts indicate they were made using a mobile device.

“Usually, if we find them with any kind of cell phone or communication device, it’s confiscated and we go through disciplinary procedures,” Harrington said.

Cunningham said she contacted Wabash Valley and Congressman Todd Young, R-Ind., asking for help to remove Deloney’s Facebook profile. Cunningham said she is speaking out because she does not want family members of other murder victims to have to see pictures of their loved ones’ killers or accomplices on Facebook.

Other states have also had to deal with inmates using Facebook. The California Department of Corrections announced in August that it had started reporting inmate pages to Facebook and that the company had agreed to delete pages that had been updated since the inmate was incarcerated. Facebook has a policy against anyone using a fake name or updating a profile for another person.

That move came after a convicted child molester accessed Facebook photos of his victim and sent current drawings of her to her home even though he had not seen her in seven years.

More than 1,760 contraband cell phones were confiscated from Indiana state prisons in 2010, according to Department of Correction records.


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Prisoner Posts Pictures On Facebook With Cell Phone

Another story about a prisoner using a contraband cell phone to post photos on Facebook. This one is from the UK. We have written about the posting of pictures to Facebook before (here and here). This is a significant issue for prison officials and crime victims alike, caused by the growing problem of smuggled cell phones in prison.

Posing for a secret camera in a jail cell packed with goodies, this is teenage murderer Liam Ryan as the outside world should not be allowed to see him.

Ryan, 19, is currently serving a life sentence at a young Offenders’ institute in Brinsford for the murder of Birmingham shopkeeper Suppiah Tharmaseelan, a father-of-four.

But in a series of photographs – apparently illicitly taken because inmates are not allowed mobile phones, computers or cameras in their cells – Ryan is seen making gangster salutes and showing off his material possessions.

The images were posted to an album entitled ‘Mobile Uploads’ on Ryan’s Facebook page from behind bars, according to the source who supplied them to the Birmingham Mail newspaper.

Access to Ryan’s Facebook profile is currently restricted to just online friends, but he is not allowed to update the page – or have anyone else update it for him – while he is in custody.

It is not clear whether the images were taken before or after Ryan was last month jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 21 years.

The source said: ‘We cannot understand how they were taken inside a prison cell.

‘The pics clearly show the convicted killer posing and smiling.

‘I am sickened at this completely brazen showing of not having a care for the actions he was convicted of.’

The Ministry of Justice says prisoners should not have access to mobile phones or computers to update online profiles.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: ‘Prisoners have no access to the internet and are barred from updating their Facebook accounts while serving their sentence, or asking others to do so from outside prison. If they do, their accounts will be terminated.

‘If a prisoner is found in illicit possession of a mobile phone or other contraband they will be dealt with appropriately by the prison.’

The sickening images show him pointing his fingers towards the camera in the shape of a gun.

He also shows off a TV, a PlayStation games console and stereo, all believed to be inside his cell.

One of his shelves is packed with crisps, Pot Noodles, cordial drinks and fruit juice, while another is packed with rows of toiletries.


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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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Gangs And Smuggled Cell Phones Grow in Idaho

An interesting article about the growth of gangs in prison in Idaho and the increase in smuggled contraband cell phones as a result. Part of the strategy, as in other states such as California, is a legistative initiative to increase the penalty for smuggling cell phones. The article quotes an official, “We want to make it a felony to introduce cellphones within a prison. If they can make calls without going through the monitored phone system, they can coordinate attacks, they can coordinate riots. They can continue to operate as a leader while they’re incarcerated.” The meshDETECT secure cell phone solution monitors all calls made through our cell phones.

Nearly half of the 392 inmates at Idaho’s maximum-security prison last month were identified as gang members. And of the 7,145 total prisoners at the state’s varied prisons and work centers, more than 18 percent — 1,311 — were identified as gang members. That’s up from about 16 percent in May 2010.

“It’s not a drastic increase, but we have definitely seen the numbers go up,” said Deputy Warden Tim Higgins, the Department of Correction’s longtime gang expert. “Every facility has gang members. Men, women, close custody, minimum security.”

Gang-related violence, reportedly on the decline in Canyon County and other communities in recent years, is a growing problem within the prison system.

“Eighty-four percent of all of our violent acts inside the prisons involved one or more gang members,” Higgins said. That statistic comes from a study at the end of 2008, he said, but the trend hasn’t abated.


Spread among Idaho’s eight state-run prisons (two more are privately operated) and five community work centers, Higgins and the 27 IDOC investigators who focus on gangs have a lot to handle. And one of their chief challenges is to make sure incarcerated gang leaders can’t maintain their grip on communities from within prison walls.

That can be a daunting task, since those gang leaders have plenty of time and motivation to come up with creative ways to outwit their captors with smuggled cell phones or Facebook pages maintained in their names by friends or family outside prison.

IDOC investigators work closely with local law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and control the flow of information and contraband between inmates and free gang members.

One recent investigation started with intelligence gathered in a prison mailroom and eventually involved 13 agencies, two states and three years. Dubbed Operation Black Magic, it led to state and federal charges last spring against 30 members of the Brown Magic Clica, a gang active in eastern Oregon and Southwest Idaho.

Eight of those arrested were already in prison. The cases are at various stages in the court system.

“It started with a mailroom officer who intercepted a piece of mail about a gang-related hit that was going to happen in Nyssa,” Higgins said.

Investigators contacted local police, who warned the intended victim and worked with IDOC to monitor communication between gang members inside and outside prison. The Treasure Valley METRO Violent Crimes Task Force stepped in and unraveled a web of conspiracy and Clica crime.


Prison gang numbers could be significantly higher than investigators know, Higgins said. Many gangs, like Brown Magic, operate in rural areas where law enforcement doesn’t have the manpower to track and document gang members.

Members of those gangs, sent to prison for drug crimes or other offenses, could slip under the prisons’ radar if they don’t sport telltale tattoos or brandish gang signs.

“More than 50 percent of the gang members fall into that category,” Higgins said.

Prison staff trained in the ways of gangs often can identify gang members through their behavior, he said. Even those whose skin advertises a gang affiliation are ultimately judged by their behavior, not their markings, he said.

“We track very closely all evidence of gang affiliation, but we try to avoid labeling people,” he said. “We believe somebody can change.”


The keys to prison gang management and intelligence gathering, Higgins said, are vigilance, accountability and not segregating gang members.

Idaho inmates aren’t sorted by gang affiliation, he said, since that strengthens the cliques and traps those who want to break free.

Instead, he said, inmates are expected to mix whether they’re among rivals or people with no gang background.

And then they’re watched very closely.

“We have absolute zero tolerance,” he said. “If we see three suspected gang members having a meeting, we jump on it.”

Mixing prisoners and holding them accountable for their behavior has worked well in the state-run prisons, he said, but may not be the model in the private Idaho Correctional Center, where Idaho’s biggest problems with gang-related violence occur.


Run by Corrections Corp. of America, ICC is Idaho’s largest prison, and nearly 19 percent of its 2,000-plus inmates are suspected gang members. The 11-year-old private prison has drawn numerous lawsuits from inmates, and a recent Associated Press investigation showed ICC prisoners are more than twice as likely to be assaulted as those at other Idaho prisons.

Higgins, who was promoted to deputy warden overseeing the state’s contract with private prisons just weeks ago, said ICC has improved its handling of gang violence. One of his primary focuses will be to help them improve more.

The private prison operates under contract with the state and is required to comply with Department of Correction policy on gang management, which is different from the approach in other states where Corrections Corp. runs prisons, he said.

Gang violence is still all too common in the state-run prisons, too, he said, but one positive sign is that gang-related assaults now tend to be less severe because inmates know they’ll be prosecuted if they cause serious injury. That’s especially true at ICC, he said, where the total number of assaults has held fairly steady but the brutality has eased.

“If it’s simple battery, it’s a misdemeanor, but with aggravated battery that’s some hard time, plus gang enhancements,” Higgins said, referring to the additional two years for gang-related crime called for under Idaho’s five-year-old gang enforcement law.

“I wish we could stop it totally, but it’s kind of built into their (gang) culture.”

With the new gang law and concerted investigative effort, Canyon County police and prosecutors have put a dent in once-soaring gang violence statistics. In Caldwell alone, police went from investigating 100 drive-by shootings in one month of 2004 to having about eight total in the past four years.

“We’ve certainly seen less of that than two years ago,” said Ellie Somoza, a deputy prosecutor who’s handled Canyon County gang cases for the past six years. “The felony crimes we’ve filed charges on have all resulted in felony convictions, and most of them have gone to state prison.”


With the legislative session approaching, Higgins has two gang-related proposals he hopes will become law this winter. Somoza said her prime legislative objective, which likely will have to wait a year, is changing the law so any juvenile who commits a drive-by shooting would be automatically tried as an adult.

Although the incidents are down appreciably in the past few years, she said, Canyon County has seen far too many instances in which gangs chose underage shooters to spray homes or cars with bullets, on the assumption they won’t face more than a couple of years in juvenile detention.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than a drive-by shooting,” Somoza said. “It’s an absolute disregard for human life. You never know who’s inside and who’ll get hit.”

Underage shooters have proven to be particularly reckless, she said, recalling one Caldwell spree of 11 drive-bys in just a few days. The five juveniles involved chose their targets so casually, she said, that one of the houses they shot up was a rental where “someone just thought they remembered that someone from a rival gang used to live there.”

Higgins’ legislative wish list aims to make it harder for gangs to operate from prison.

One proposed bill, aimed at drying up a key money-making endeavor for prison gangs, would make it a felony to smuggle into prison or possess in prison more than a certain amount — probably 3 ounces — of tobacco.

“A can of Bugler (a brand of roll-your-own tobacco) you could buy for 99 cents on sale is worth $40 inside the prison,” he said. “And the gangs are nearly always in control of any big quantity of tobacco.”

The other law he hopes will pass this winter would fight one of the biggest problems gang investigators face: contraband phones.

“We want to make it a felony to introduce cellphones within a prison,” Higgins said. “If they can make calls without going through the monitored phone system, they can coordinate attacks, they can coordinate riots. They can continue to operate as a leader while they’re incarcerated.

“But right now if we catch them with a cellphone, it’s just a disciplinary offense, and it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.

In the past year, prison staff confiscated 18 cellphones from inmates, and there are likely numerous others they never found. Officials don’t know who smuggled them in or how, he said, but all of the devices found were prepaid phones that are hard to trace to individuals — especially since savvy prisoners conceal the SIM cards separately from the phones.

IDOC has some cellphone detection equipment, including a phone-sniffing dog at the medium-security Idaho State Correctional Institution. Officials hope to add more sophisticated equipment soon.

“It’s a huge deal,” Higgins said. “If we lock someone up in prison, we need to make sure they can’t continue to do business and do harm to the community. If they do, I take great offense at that.”


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Despite Cell Phone Jamming, Killer Uses Facebook In Prison

No technology is perfect, and that includes cell phone jamming technology. The real issue here is how compromised is the wireless blocking system installed at Parchman to combat contraband cell phones? The meshDETECT secure cell phone service has no internet access available so prisoners cannot access Facebook or Twitter.

An inmate inside a Mid-South prison has been able to take pictures and post them online, despite a high-tech blocking technology put in place to keep him from doing just that.

Lois “Lee” Hudspeth is serving a life sentence for the brutal murder Jennifer Young. Hudspeth beat Young to death with a tire iron and dumped her body into a body of water at Askew Wildlife Refuge in Tunica County, Mississippi.

Young’s husband spoke to Action News 5 after his wife’s body was found in 2003. John Young said he barely recognized the mother of his young son.

“I didn’t even know who she was. Only by the markings on her body,” he said. I hope they catch this SOB who did this. I want them to catch him.”

Hudspeth was caught, and pleaded guilty to first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison – cut off from the outside world. But now, he’s found freedom on Facebook, to dismay of Young’s sister-in-law, Deborah Russell.

“His attitude looks like he ain’t sorry. Looks like he’s enjoying life,” she said. “It’s said, because, I mean, he shouldn’t be able to do that.”

Russell can’t believe Hudspeth is able to access social media in his jail cell, posting pictures and playing internet games like Bingo Blitz and Farmville.

It’s not the first time Action News 5 has busted inmates posting on Facebook. Each time they were using an illegal cell phone that was smuggled inside their cells. And after each report, the phones were confiscated and the inmates punished – until this time.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections cannot say how Hudspeth managed to get photos of himself on Facebook. They’re likely at a loss because Hudspeth is at a prison with “cell blocking” technology.

It’s called “Operation Cellblock,” a hi-tech system that claims to “shut down illegal inmate cell phone usage.” The company, Tecore Networks, says the system puts a “radio frequency umbrella” over prisons which blocks un-authorized users but allows authorized users to still get out.

Hudspeth is locked up at Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, where the MDOC launched the cell blocking system in September last year. Yet he uploaded a picture of himself in July, and played games on Facebook as recently as September.

Action News 5 asked a Tecore Networks spokesperson how Hudspeth could be on Facebook with operation cellblock in effect. The spokesperson said, “I have no idea, you have no idea, the prison has no idea. No one knows for sure until you can find out how this guy is doing it.”

Meanwhile, an MDOC spokesperson said Hudspeth’s Facebook activity is under investigation. Hudspeth actually has two accounts. If investigators determine he has or had a cell phone, they will take appropriate action.

Even if someone on the outside is helping Hudspeth with his Facebook account, he would still need a cell phone to text or email that person the pictures from his jail cell photo shoot.

Prison officials say the illegal cell phone trade is appealing to visitors and staff because inmates can pay up to $500 for a phone. Dozens of prison staffers have been arrested over the past four years for supplying phones.

Since September of last year, more than one million cell phone calls or texts attempted by inmates at Parchman have been intercepted and successfully blocked by Tecore’s technology, which is provided at no cost as part of its contract with the Mississippi Department of Correction to provide phone service.


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