Tag Archives: Jamming

Caution Advised On Managed Access Jamming For Prisons

prison-cell-phone-jamming-problemsAs we have written before, managed access cell phone jamming systems being tested in prisons around the world have been deployed with mixed results. In addition to requiring ongoing management and investment post deployment, they have a spotty record and not all vendor’s equipment works as advertised.

Recently, the Cayman Islands issued a report on their managed access trial. According to the report, which is discussed in the article below, “The prisons service installed a cell phone jamming device at Northward in December 2009, but the equipment has never worked properly. A large communications tower next to the prison complex, which operates most of the radio station signals in the Cayman Islands, causes signal “bleed over” that interferes with the cell phone jamming device.”

In addition, the U.K. prisons inspectorate, which recently reviewed the Cayman Islands prisons system, advised caution for entities seeking to purchase phone jamming equipment.

“Many companies make claims concerning the effectiveness of various technologies or items of equipment, but the long-term independent verification is often difficult to obtain,” said Stephen Fradley of the UK’s prisons inspectorate.

Officials with Cayman’s prisons service said they have tried their best to implement cell phone jamming technology at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward, but funding concerns have blocked their efforts.

That is the response to a report tabled in the Legislative Assembly Monday regarding what Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams said was a failure of the prisons system to follow her recommendations concerning prison safety and management issued in a 2011 report.

Two of the three recommendations from that report, which detailed a strip search conducted on three teenage girls at Her Majesty’s Prison, Fairbanks, were followed by government officials. The special report made public by Cayman lawmakers Monday dealt only with the third and final recommendation made by Ms Williams’s office.

Ms Williams recommended that the prison system should install phone jamming equipment at both Northward and Fairbanks “since, realistically, it is virtually impossible to stop cell phone and BlackBerry use in prisons….”

“[It] would avoid regular and repeated use of strip-searching as a means of retrieval, which could not only put both the prison and the Cayman Islands government in violation of human rights protections, but also leave both entities open to lawsuits.”

The prisons service installed a cell phone jamming device at Northward in December 2009, but the equipment has never worked properly. A large communications tower next to the prison complex, which operates most of the radio station signals in the Cayman Islands, causes signal “bleed over” that interferes with the cell phone jamming device.

That information was revealed following Ms Williams’s 2011 report on the prison service.

In a communication sent to the complaints commissioner last month, Ministry of Home Affairs chief officer Eric Bush noted the government wished to accomplish cell phone jamming at the prisons, but noted that it was unclear how government might get to that stage.

“We have not had the funding provided to purchase additional cellular jamming equipment that would satisfy your recommendation,” Mr. Bush wrote. “There are a number of security-related matters that would take priority over additional cellular jamming equipment, should an abundance of funding be allocated to the prison service.”

In addition, the U.K. prisons inspectorate, which recently reviewed the Cayman Islands prisons system, advised caution for entities seeking to purchase phone jamming equipment.

“Many companies make claims concerning the effectiveness of various technologies or items of equipment, but the long-term independent verification is often difficult to obtain,” said Stephen Fradley of the UK’s prisons inspectorate.

Mr. Fradley said the U.K. National Offender Management Service is currently evaluating an “approved contractor list” for the cell phone jamming technology.

A report from the agency on that issue was due by the end of the year, Mr. Fradley said.

The responses by the local ministry to her recommendations were simply not good enough, Ms Williams concluded

“The [Office of the Complaints Commissioner] accepts both the financial constraints of the ministry and that some efforts toward compliance have been made by the ministry with regard to the outstanding recommendation,” she said. “This falls far short of compliance.”


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Australia Launches Contraband Prison Cell Phone Jamming Trial

australia-jamming-prison-mobile-phonesAn Australian-first trial of technology that will stop inmates from making calls from mobile phones they’ve illegally smuggled into jail has begun at a prison west of Sydney. The project trials the use of a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) to jam phones within the prison under the supervision of the ACMA and mobile phone carriers.

The DAS system will jam the channels transmitting mobile phone signals within the prison but prevent disruption outside the prison. Kordia has provided the DAS design which has been installed by an independent contractor under Kordia supervision. Kordia is now activating the jamming system into the DAS and will be running a series of tests to prove the system’s effectiveness and ensure mobile signals outside the prison complex are unaffected.

The jammers and accompanying distributed antenna system will be provided by chosen suppliers WiComm and Lan Installations for contracts worth $462,000 and $178,000 respectively.

NSW Corrective Services had to seek exemptions from the Australian Communications and Media Authority to conduct the trial as current legislation makes it an offence to operate, supply or possess a jamming device. Lithgow Jail is understood to be fit for a jamming-only trial due to its remoteness. If the nine-month $1.06 million Lithgow trial proved successful in stopping calls while not impacting on mobile phone use outside the jail then jamming would likely be rolled out to the state’s other maximum security prisons.

However, using jammers to block signals in Australia’s prisons is not expected to be the all encompassing solution. Containing a signal block to a particular area is difficult to achieve without having leakages affecting surrounding residents accoring to David Stone at New Zealand’s Telecommunications Carriers Forum

The New Zealand Government has hit several roadbumps since introducing jamming technology in all of its 20 prisons in 2009, with reports of cost blowouts, radiation leakage and sparse jamming coverage.

The jamming technology used in NZ prisons reportedly only covered an average 60 percent of each facility, with the government forced to fork out more cash than expected to upgrade and fix the system. It also received complaints from residential areas around the prison.

“There were certainly instances where neighbouring premises were significantly negatively impacted. The actual signal strength was amped up in those sectors to cover it, but some people had negative experiences,” Stone said.

The NZ Government has declined to detail what mix of technology it has used in its jamming project. It is understood the government initially used jammers but on the advice of the local telco industry has started building cell sites within prison facilities.

Paul Brislen of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand said that had the NZ Government listened to the technical advice it had been given, neighbours would not have been affected.

“The telcos said the easiest thing to do would be to put a cellphone tower in the prison, so any smuggled cell phones would lock onto it, but they didn’t want to do that, despite the telcos saying it was the cheapest and best way of doing it. In the end they were forced to implement some kind of jamming regime,” Brislen said.

He said blocking signals was almost impossible to achieve.

“Cell phone signals from the tower to the phone are designed, much like the internet, to lock onto and get around any kind of damage, and all of this kind of stuff is treated as damage, so the signal works really hard to get around it. [The devices are] working quite hard to connect to the nearest tower,” Brislen said.

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“Managed Access” For Prison Contraband Cell Phones Is High Maintenance

high-maintenance-managed-accessAccording to a recent article, managed access systems (MAS) are not plug and play. They require ongoing systems management and staff time. This means ongoing cost, in addition to the high cost and operational challenges of installation.

The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman was the first prison in the country to use the Intelligent Network Access Controller (iNAC), which blocks service for contraband cell phones inside the prison walls. Being on the cutting edge involved some learning, said Sean Smith, who heads the state’s Corrections Investigation Division.

“Our biggest misconception was the idea that it was plug-and-play,” Smith said. “It is not. It’s called managed access for a reason.”

The reason is that the system can require daily management to keep it tuned to the precise footprint needed.

It can take several weeks to get a system configured to operate within the required parameter. But the RF environment is not static, and additional adjustments can be needed on a daily basis. Signal strength, direction and penetration can vary depending on physical changes in the environment, weather and outside signals from carriers’ cell sites.


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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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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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Telephones Installed Inside Prison Cells

In May of 2011 we wrote about a British prison that solved the problem of contraband cell phones by installing landline telephones in each of the cells of a jail. The results were fewer smuggled phones, less violence, and even fewer failed drug tests! Now another prison in the U.K is taking the same approach.

As the authorities responsible for the prison state, the installation of a phone in each prison cell “may reduce the number of mobile phones being smuggled into prisons.” Additionally, the greater use of IT could transform prison education, resettlement and family contact.

For existing jails and prisons where the installation of a hard wired wall phone is impractical due to cost and infrastructure limitations, a secure prison cell phone solution such as meshDETECT will achieve the same results with no capital outlays.

Prisoners have been given telephones inside their cells despite ministers promising to crack down on perks behind bars.

Convicts at a young offender institution in Kent in the United Kingdom have become the first in state-run jails to be given personal landlines that they buy credit to use at any time of day or night.

They can only ring numbers approved by the authorities and cannot receive calls on the handsets, while the cost of installing them is being covered by BT.

If the pilot scheme is deemed a success it could be copied in public sector prisons across England and Wales, having been used for several years in privately run institutions.

But it is taking place at the same time as the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, has vowed to stop prisoners spending all day in their cells watching television or playing video games.

Unions also fear that governors are putting phones in cells in order to reduce the amount of time that criminals spend on landings or communal areas, allowing them to reduce the number of guards required.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Greater use of IT could transform prison education, resettlement and family contact but as a complement to, not a substitute for, good professional staffing.

“No one wants Big Brother hi-tech prisons with everyone held behind their doors and no human interaction.”

The deputy general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, Harry Fletcher, said: “There must be safeguards that these phones are not used to contact, harass or intimidate victims. The same goes for drug dealing and organised crime.”

However he added that the move may reduce the number of mobile phones being smuggled into prisons.

Until recently inmates had to queue up to use phones on prison landings if they wanted to speak to friends or family, prompting a black market in mobiles brought in by visitors. Many jails now allocate time slots for individual prisoners, who must give details of who they want to call, to use the public handsets.

But some newly built jails run by private firms have started to feature phones inside cells, and now HMYOI Rochester has become the first state-run prison to install them.

In the pilot scheme, selected cells on two wings have been fitted with telephones at the Victorian institution, which is currently home to about 600 men aged between 18 and 21 who have been sentenced to up to four years behind bars.

Under the BT system, they must set up a personal account that is accessed by a PIN and give the authorities the names, addresses and phone numbers of the people they wish to call so a list can be approved. The calls are monitored and recorded by the authorities, and inmates are warned against saying anything linked to crime, escape plans, threats or coded messages.

Prisoners must buy credit to use the BT Pinphones and calls to landlines cost 9p a minute but ringing a mobile costs 20p a minute. There is no limit to how many calls they can make.

Inmates can also have televisions in their cells for £1 a week while those given “enhanced” status for good behaviour are allowed PlayStation consoles from home and can sleep on their own bedding.

Last month the prisons watchdog, Nick Hardwick, said too many prisoners were “lying on their backs in their cells watching daytime telly” because of a lack of money and staff to give them useful activities.

But some of the in-cell perks could be scrapped as ministers try to stop prisons being seen as “holiday camps”.

A law is being passed that will allow jamming devices to block mobile phone signals in jails, while access to satellite TV channels could be removed.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Ministers are reviewing the policy around the incentives scheme for prisoners. It is crucial that these incentives are appropriately earned and that they have credibility with the public.

“A pilot scheme has been running at HMYOI Rochester which gives prisoners limited access to phones in their cells. In cell phones are subject to the same security controls that apply to phones on the communal landings, no prisoner can receive calls on this system.

“This pilot will be evaluated and the results considered along with the other benefits associated with the incentives scheme.”


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Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs

Here is a 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.

Mobile phone jamming technology set for Scotland’s prisons:
Mobile phone blockers, costing up to £1 million per prison, are being planned to stop inmates continuing to run criminal operations from behind bars.

Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Whitelock, head of intelligence group at Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement, said: “We have established a national prison intelligence unit which involves close collaboration with the SPS and the eight police forces, and one of the key strands of work is to tackle the use of mobile phones in prison.”

However, the Mobile Broadband Group, which represents providers, has raised concerns. “The interference equipment that will be allowed within prisons as a result of this legislation has the potential to cause harmful interference to the customers of the mobile operators legitimately using their mobile devices in the vicinity,” it said.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont added: “Everyone agrees that prisoners should not be able to access mobile phones or the internet outwith times monitored and agreed by the Scottish Prison Service. But the way to do this is to clamp down on smuggling. (Source)

Low-tech vs. high tech to stop cell phones in prison: California prison officials are trying a new tack to stop cell phone use by inmates. They are trying to block cell phone signals, but the technology has failed when used in other states. Every year, thousands of cell phones are confiscated in California prisons.

Inmates use them for various and nefarious reasons – ordering hits and managing gang activity from the inside out. How the phones get in is just as varied and shadowy. Evidence and testimony from officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) show that staff members smuggle in phones for a lucrative profit.

Yet, corrections officers are not searched when they show up for work. Some reports say it would violate their contract, others say the state doesn’t want to pay for the shift time resulting from searches. What is the best way to stop cell phones in prisons? Why aren’t corrections officers searched? (Source)

Welcome to Costa del Jail! Facebook boasts of thugs and burglars serving time: Stripped to the waist and grinning from ear to ear, they look like a group of young friends posing for a holiday snap.

Actually these eight men are prison inmates parading for the camera – and they flouted a ban on mobile phones to upload the results to Facebook.

As well as dressing in their shorts, they poured scorn on the justice system by likening their prison sentences to a holiday in Spain. (Source)

Prison video visits threaten to put profit before public safety: Virtual visiting has become the latest craze in prisons, with at least 20 states now having some kind of video conferencing system in place. As most prisoners tend to get housed in facilities at least 100 – and often up to 500 – miles from home, frequent visits are impossible for families; so video calls at least offer the opportunity for some virtual face time.

Unfortunately, however, what could be a positive additional means for prisoners and their families to stay in touch is in danger of becoming any thing but a blessing. Some jurisdictions have already begun to eliminate contact visits entirely in favor of their virtual counterpart – and private corporations are already lining up to exploit this latest opportunity to fleece prisoners’ families. (Source)

Prisoner’s Facebook page ‘mocks jail system,’ union head says: A Facebook profile of a jailed, notorious street gang member highlights the smuggling problem in Quebec’s detention centres, according to the president of the province’s union of correctional officers.

Jonathan Jano Klor, sentenced to 14 years in prison in September for attempted murder, is listed on a public Facebook profile as a “young entrepreneur.”

The profile was created in July while Klor was in Montreal’s Riviere-des-Prairies Detention Centre awaiting sentencing. (Source)

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Texas To Invest in Cell Phone Blocking Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Global Tel*Link Tries to Corner The Market On Prison Managed Access Systems

On March 1, 2012 the FCC issued a public notice seeking comments “on concerns and issues related to intentional interruptions of Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS or “wireless service”) by government authorities for the purpose of ensuring public safety.” (GN Docket No. 12-52)

As the notice states, “While the important function that wireless service plays in protecting public safety is undisputed, some commentators, including some law enforcement personnel, have raised concerns that wireless networks can be used in ways that put the public’s safety at risk. Concerns, for example, that wireless service could be used to trigger the detonation of an explosive device or to organize the activities of a violent flash mob have led public authorities in the United States and abroad to consider interrupting wireless service. Last summer, a public agency temporarily interrupted wireless service on parts of a mass transit system based on stated concerns about public safety.”

“Any intentional interruption of wireless service, no matter how brief or localized, raises significant concerns and implicates substantial legal and policy questions. The service interruption last summer drew sharp criticism, and state and local governments have recently grappled with how to address possible future events. We are concerned that there has been insufficient discussion, analysis, and consideration of the questions raised by intentional interruptions of wireless service by government authorities. In this Public Notice, we seek comment on the legal constraints and policy considerations that bear on an intentional interruption of wireless service by government actors for the purpose of ensuring public safety.”

Not surprisingly this request for comments received many responses from public and private organizations both for and against such action and policy. Included amongst the comments submitted were those provided by Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Tecore on the use of managed access technology in prisons to jam contraband cell phone signals.

As we have written previously, GTL and Tecore have partnered to install managed access in the CDCR’s prison facilities across the state of California as part of GTL’s recent contract to provide prison inmate telephone service.

What is interesting about GTL’s comments to the FCC is its recommendation that the FCC require that entities seeking to deploy a wireless interruption system must provide their services through an authorized provider of telecommunications services selected by the correctional facility. That is, that prison payphone companies be the sole provider of such systems to prisons.

GTL’s logic is as follows,”Through judicious application of existing or enhanced standards promulgated by the Office of Engineering and Technology, the Commission can ensure that any system will be installed and operated in the public interest. Permitting entities with no known qualifications to interact with telecommunications service providers or law enforcement agencies, to install and operate sensitive telecommunications infrastructure, borders on the reckless and irresponsible. To this end, the FCC can require that entities seeking to deploy a wireless interruption system must provide their services through an authorized provider of telecommunications services selected by the correctional facility. Such authorizations carry with them financial and technical evaluations, and provide wireless consumers with points of contact for regulatory redress. Coordination with law enforcement and correctional officers – of the sort pursued in the Maryland, Mississippi, and South Carolina tests – should also be required, culminating in written approval from the institution administrator and a contract with the correctional facility.”

Not surprisingly, Tecore has concerns with GTL’s attempt to corner the market on managed access systems deployment within the prison prison industry. In their subsequent comments to FCC they respond to this initiative: “Tecore most strongly disagrees with the portion of GTL’s comments wherein it urges the Commission to use its regulatory authority to “require that entities seeking to deploy a wireless interruption system . . . provide their services through an authorized provider of telecommunications services selected by the correctional facility.”

“Tecore agrees that, given the technological complexities of managed access, “[p]ermitting entities with no known qualifications . . . to install and operate sensitive telecommunications infrastructure” would border on the “reckless and irresponsible.” However, this does not warrant the requirement that corrections officials be precluded from deploying managed access directly, or through any competent contractor, so long as the system can be effectively deployed and managed. Indeed, the upcoming Maryland deployment of the Tecore Managed Access solution would be precluded under GTL’s proposal because the deployment is not being implemented through an inmate telephone service provider. As Tecore has advocated to the Commission in pioneering managed access, the attraction of including an inmate telephone services provider in the equation is that it presents a vehicle for funding the deployment, which is useful for cash-strapped corrections departments. Inmate telephone contractors, nor indeed any other corrections contractor, should not be a required part of any deployment. This is an administrative decision best left to each corrections department.”

With partners like these, who needs enemies?

(Separately in this same submission to the FCC, Tecore also responds in detail to the findings of the recent highly critical CCST report on the CDCR plan to deploy managed access systems.)

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Prisons Battle Cellphone Smuggling

An interesting overview of the problems smuggled cell phones in prison create in jails throughout the United States. As usual however, the discussion of possible solutions focuses on reducing supply and signal jamming, but offers no consideration of a strategy reducing the DEMAND for contraband cell phones.

By co-opting prisoners’ legitimate desire for more frequent and easier telephone access to family, prisons can reduce the overall demand for contraband cell phones and reduce the incentive to smuggle them into jails. This demand can be met by offering prisoners the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution.

Devices behind bars can have deadly results. Jamming could aid in the fight, but bugs need to be worked out.

Guards found the dead tomcat last summer, lying between two fences that separate inmates at Phillips State Prison in Buford from the outside world.

Curiously, the cat’s belly had been stitched together, so suspicious prison officials took a closer look. Inside the animal, they found eight cellphones. Someone had tried to toss the dead feline over both fences, but the throw fell short.

At Hancock State Prison, a basketball filled with 50 cellphones was rolled through a hole in a perimeter fence. A guard at the same prison allegedly tried to smuggle in a phone wrapped in aluminum foil, disguised as a baked potato.

Georgia prison officials say cellphone smuggling is the most pressing problem they face. Cellphones are such a hot commodity inside the walls they’re being confiscated by the thousands.

And officials say the phones are a menace, wreaking havoc inside and outside the cell blocks. Phones are used to coordinate attacks inside the prison walls and are enabling inmates to continue criminal activity outside of prison. They’ve been used to threaten witnesses and coordinate simultaneous protests at multiple prisons.

“They present a clear and present threat, not only to the inmates themselves but to our staff and to the public,” Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said. “They’re not about calling mom on Thanksgiving. They’re for power, money and gangs. It’s a big business and a tremendous problem.”

Over a one-year period ending in July, corrections officials confiscated more than 8,700 illegal cellphones, Owens said. “And if we’ve confiscated 8,700 cellphones, the question I have is how many have we not been able to seize?”

Behind bars, the cellphones, mostly prepaid, cost $200 to $600 each.

Owens said a jamming device that blocks cellphone signals would allow prison systems to combat the problem. But the Federal Communications Commission has not allowed states to use it, despite a report from the National Institute of Justice that indicates cellphone use is a problem at prisons across the country:

*In Texas, a death row inmate who killed four people used a cellphone to threaten a state senator, prompting a lockdown of the entire prison system.

*In Nevada, a prison dental assistant was convicted of helping an inmate get a cellphone to plan a successful escape.

*In South Carolina, a captain in charge of intercepting prison contraband was shot six times in the chest at his home after an inmate used a cellphone to call an ex-con to carry out the hit.

Even the most dangerous inmates — those who are the most closely monitored — have been caught with cellphones.

While Fulton County courthouse killer Brian Nichols awaited trial in jail, someone smuggled phones to him on two occasions. Nichols, who was later convicted of killing a judge, a deputy and another man in the courthouse rampage, used the phones to plot an escape and send lewd photos of himself to his pen-pal girlfriend.

Last year, California prison officials found a cellphone on notorious mass murderer Charles Manson — the second one found on him in two years.

In Georgia, it is a felony to smuggle a cellphone into prison, with a maximum punishment of five years behind bars. The prison system asks the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to extend sentences by six months for all inmates caught with cellphones.

But the smuggling hasn’t landed only inmates in hot water. Last year, 312 civilians and 59 prison staff members were charged with trying to smuggle contraband inside state prisons, and most cases involved cellphones, Owens said.

Owens, who has overseen the system since 2009, says he has an easy answer when asked what his biggest problem is.

“It’s not our budget, not staffing, not infrastructure, not overcrowding,” he said. “It’s cellphones.”

Before cellphones, inmates could only use prison pay phones, and officials decided who inmates could call, when they could call and how much time they could spend on the phone. The calls were recorded. But inmates say cellphones are much less costly than the expensive collect calls paid for by their families.

On Nov. 28, Gov. Nathan Deal wrote the FCC, asking it to reconsider its position on the use of jamming devices to disrupt cellphone calls in prisons. Deal noted that two recent disturbances at state prisons “only continue to underscore the nationwide epidemic of illegal cellphone usage in prison facilities across the United States.”

The incidents — one at Telfair State Prison, the other at Hancock State Prison — left 15 inmates hospitalized and a guard with a leg injury, Deal wrote. Illegal cellphones were found to be the catalysts behind the two fights, the governor wrote.

Deal said prison officials have investigated a number of technologies to fight cellphone use in prison and are convinced that cellphone “jammers” are the most cost-efficient and timely response.

“Carving out an exception for the use of this technology in prison facilities is sound policy to protect inmates, corrections employees and the public,” he wrote.

The FCC shares Deal’s concerns and is working with prison authorities and others to address the matter, a commission spokesman said. There are concerns, however, that the technology poses a risk of interfering with legal calls outside the prison grounds, including calls to public safety, the spokesman said.

Other states use dogs to sniff out illegal cellphones. At least two states have used a technology that, instead of jamming calls, prevents calls from reaching their destination. But Owens said those methods are too costly. He estimated that “managed access” technology would cost the prison system millions of dollars. Using dogs to find cellphones also would end up being too expensive, he said, because he would have to hire and train dozens of new corrections officers.

Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia who has studied the issue, said there are legitimate concerns that jamming devices could disable phones used by law enforcement.

“If I’m driving by as a police officer, I’d be concerned whether a jamming device inside a prison is going to jam my own frequency,” Burke said. “But the technology is advancing and can probably be isolated enough so that it’s not going to interfere with phones outside the prison setting. And in rural areas, where many prisons are located, who are you going to interfere with anyway?”

District Attorney Fred Bright said cellphone smuggling is a big problem in his sprawling eight-county circuit, which includes a number of Middle Georgia and east Georgia prisons.

His office prosecutes 40 to 50 cases a year involving inmates, prison workers and visitors, he said. This included an indictment against a guard caught trying to sneak in a cellphone he’d stuffed inside a fish sandwich, Bright said.

The GBI is investigating a cellphone smuggling case at a unspecified prison in Middle Georgia, said the agency’s director, Vernon Keenan. It began as a drug smuggling case but has broadened in scope, he said.

Keenan added that the GBI is often called in when there are assaults inside the prison system and during those investigations agents have learned that cellphones were involved in coordinating the attacks.

One prison inmate recently killed a fellow inmate during an argument over a cellphone, Owens said, declining to give more details because the investigation is ongoing.

Federal prosecutors in Atlanta recently convicted Carlos Garcia for using a cellphone smuggled to him inside Valdosta State Prison to transfer $250 from a 93-year-old woman’s credit union account to his inmate account.

The 36-year-old inmate had obtained the victim’s credit union account numbers and PIN number from an accomplice, who had stolen the woman’s wallet while she was shopping in Conyers.

At the time, Garcia was serving a 10-year term for identity theft and fraud convictions in DeKalb County. After transferring the money to his prison account, he tried to steal again from the elderly victim, who had $120,000 in the bank, prosecutors said.

Garcia used his cellphone to make online purchases. But, by that time, law enforcement officials were already onto the scheme and blocked the transactions.

Prosecutors said the inmate was charged with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft after he called the credit union to find out why the charges were not going through.


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