Tag Archives: federal bureau of prisons

To Fight Recidivism, DOJ Requires BOP To Offer Cell Phones To Prisoners

BOP-halfway-house-cell-phoneThe Justice Department 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.

Once fully implemented, these services will be available to every single one of the approximately 30,000 inmates who are released through halfway houses each year.

Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.

According to the new requirements, not just any cell phones will be allowed for use. Specifically the cell phones provided to halfway house prisoners must meet the following criteria:

  • Contractors managing the halfway houses must develop policy and procedures to monitor use of the devices.
  • The cell phone can be equipped with GPS to account for inmate location.
  • No resident-to-resident phone calls will be allowed.
  • Cell phones will be randomly searched, with all cell phones being searched at least monthly.
  • Cell phone photos inside the facility or on the facility property will be prohibited.

We applaud this move by the Justice Department to reduce recidivism and increase communication between prisoners and their families. We look forward to working with halfway house contractors who must develop and implement the policy and procedures that allow for the routine use and monitoring of cell phones. Per the new requirements, these procedures must be approved at the time of submission of the technical proposal, and any revisions must be approved by the RRM.

Fortunately, the meshDETECT Secure Prison Cell Phone Solution has the all the monitoring, forensic and security requirements contained in BOP RRC Statement of Work (SOW), plus many additional capabilities to insure halfway house detainees have access to all the benefits of wireless technology in a controlled and secure manner.

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Contraband Cell Phone Supply & Demand

The American Correction Association has an article on its website summarizing the recent meeting of the newly-formed No Cells in Cells Coalition on Oct. 23, 2012, at the ACA headquarters to discuss the problem of contraband cell phones smuggled into prisons. Attendees included representatives from the Delaware Department of Corrections, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Virginia Department of Corrections, the American Jail Association, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the National Sheriff’s Association, cell phone companies Sprint and ATT, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and others.

According to the article, the attendees discussed the types of offenders most likely to attempt to smuggle phones. “Members concluded that while phones are more likely to be smuggled by long-term offenders looking to continue their drug or crime operations, witness intimidation within pretrial facilities is common as well. Kristy Dyroff, director of communications for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, commented that witness intimidation through use of cell phones in pretrial facilities is most common in domestic violence cases.

Several methods currently used to combat the issue of contraband cell phones were discussed throughout the meeting, including:

• Dogs trained to sniff out cell phone parts;
• Technologies such as managed access;
• Thorough searches and seizures by correctional staff;
• Metal detectors; and
• Observation and profiling to determine which offenders are most likely to
smuggle phones.

Though each method has its benefits and downsides, according to Judi Garrett, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, no single method has been proven significantly more effective than the others.”

We fully support the initiatives recommended by this coalition. Yet what is interesting about this list is that all the measures being contemplated are supply side solutions. There seems to be no thinking on how to address the demand side of this issue however…

Interestingly, another recent blog posting, this one from Marcus Spectrum Solutions, discusses the recent decision by the FCC to take up the Wright Petition on high prison long distance rates and the impact these rates have had on driving the demand for contraband cell phones. The title of the post is “Telecom Policy Lessons from the War on Drugs.”

In the article, the author states, “A key lesson from the War on Drugs is that one must work both the “demand side” and “supply side” of these intractable problems to make progress. Short of having a total police state one just can not eliminate antisocial products that are in high demand.”

Clearly, there is nothing closer to a pure police state than a federal or state correctional facility, yet cell phones remain a significant problem in these facilities. The formation of the No Cells in Cells Coalition is proof of the challenge and size of this issue. And, as the author states, the reduction of the high long distance (interstate) rates common in many states may address some of the demand for contraband cell phones.

We believe however that the problem of demand for smuggled mobile phones in jail goes beyond long-term offenders looking to continue their drug or crime operations, witness intimidation and the avoidance of high LD rates. The demand is also driven by a desire for more communication and more privacy (not secrecy) and as such, any comprehensive solution should address both sides of the equation – supply and demand.

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Cell Phones in Federal Prison

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.

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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Might Prison-Friendly Cell Phones Be A Wiser Response To Contraband Phones Smuggled Behind Bars?

Might prison-friendly cell phones be a wiser response to contraband phones smuggled behind bars? So writes Douglas A. Berman the Robert J. Watkins/Procter & Gamble Professor of Law at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University on his blog Sentencing Law And Policy.

Professor Berman, who attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School and who’s principal teaching and research focus is in the area of criminal law and criminal sentencing, states in his blog post on the recent GAO report on smuggled cell phones in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “Though I fully understand the problems that contraband cell phones can pose in prisons, I do not understand why anyone would be confident that this new federal criminal law would be likely to be effective at addressing these problems (or would even ever get seriously enforced by federal prosecutors).”

“As the title of my post hints, I think trying to provide inmates with controlled and closely monitored access to a prison-friendly cell phone may be a much more effective way to deal with a problem that seem likely to get even more profound if and when smart-phones and tablets and other small electronics become even cheaper and easier to pass to inmates who may just want no more than a cheap and easy way to keep up with the outside world.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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Cellphone War

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Smuggled Cell Phones A Prisoner’s Most Dangerous Weapon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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