Tag Archives: mdoc

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.

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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Prisoner Phone Rates Increased

This article regarding the rate increase for Michigan’s state prisoner telephone services offers the following insight, “Criminologists report that prisoners with strong social bonds are less likely to re-offend or exhibit anti-social behavior. Prisoners able to talk more with their families display the higher signs of rehabilitation than prisoners who converse less frequently.” A secure prison cell phone service would increase the ability of prisoners to communicate with their families while reducing the contraband value of smuggled prison cell phones. This rate increase, to pay for cell phone signal jammers, may not have been necessary as a result.

Under a new contract, prisoners pay almost double the amount to make phone calls. The increase means more money to Department of Corrections at great cost to prison families, inmates say.

July 1, local calls went from 12 cents per minute to 20 cents per minute. Interstate calls went from 15 cents per minute to 23 cents per minute.

Public Communications Services (PCS) recently acquired the contract for Prisoner Telephone Services. PCS promotes itself as a nationwide Inmate Communications Service provider with “affordable calling options” that are approved by the correctional facilities.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson John Cordell said the price increases reflect the cost of new telecommunications equipment, safety and security features.

“Embarq, which had the contract for 10 years, had not made upgrades. Out-of-date technology equipment had to be replaced,” Cordell said. “The cost of installation of equipment that can detect cell phone usage was also built into the contract.”

Not so, according to a letter received from Dennis Boatwright, imprisoned at Mid-Michigan Correctional Facility.

“A Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) memorandum showed that the PCS phone company only charges inmates 3 cents a call,” Boatwright writes. “At the same time, this memo reveals that the MDOC is receiving up to 15 cents a minute kickback.”

According to Cordell, the technology will enhance security and increase the safety of staff, prisoners, visitors and citizens of the state of Michigan.

“The equipment was not available in the past because of the high cost associated with installation,” Cordell said. “The increases in rates will offset that cost and allow the department to implement this much needed security enhancement.”

When the cost of installation is recouped, the phone rates will be reduced, Cordell said.

Security is a false issue, according to Boatwright.

Court evidence has revealed prison staff smuggle in cell phones for bribes, Boatwright says. Furthermore, there are no incident reports of cell phones being brought in by visitors through the visiting rooms.

“Funds for security measures are already accounted for in preexisting corrections budgets. The equipment the MDOC will use to detect prohibited phone calls cost significantly less than the kickbacks the corrections department will pocket,” Boatwright writes. “MDOC is using these kickbacks to prevent more prison closings, and to maintain sweetheart fringe benefits for staff such as unquestioned sick days off and numerous vacation days. To be sure, many correctional facilities are already outfitted with scanner-like devices.”

Cordell indicated the cost per minute with the previous contractor, Embarq, was fifth lowest in nation. With PCS increases, the rates are 11th lowest in nation.

Cordell says installation cost is still being calculated.

“We are still working out what the cost will be after the installation. They would be reduced, but we won’t know how much until we know what specific system we are using and what the maintenance/operational costs will be,” Cordell said. “It is too early to speculate on what the rate would be once it is reduced.

In the meantime, increased phone rates hurt not only prisoners, but also relatives and friends who send money to incarcerated loved ones, according to Boatwright.

“Criminologists report that prisoners with strong social bonds are less likely to re-offend or exhibit anti-social behavior. Prisoners able to talk more with their families display the higher signs of rehabilitation than prisoners who converse less frequently,” Boatwright writes. “Thus outrageous phone rates not only cost society additional money, but may cost even more socially if taxpayers don’t express their disapproval at this unjust business practice.”

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