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FBI Sneaks Cell Phone Into L.A. Jail

FBI cellphone sting 300x225 FBI Sneaks Cell Phone Into L.A. JailEvidently now even the FBI is smuggling cell phones into California prisons! According to this article, “Sources said Monday that the deputy allegedly caught in the sting accepted the money to smuggle the cellphone to the inmate, who was locked up at the Men’s Central Jail. Unbeknownst to the deputy, the inmate was working as an informant for the FBI.” Besides the jurisdictional issues and bad press for both organizations, the larger issue remains. Why are prisons and jails not seeking to address the demand side of the supply-and-demand issue when it comes to contraband prison cell phones?

FBI agents probing misconduct allegations in the L.A. County Jail orchestrated an undercover sting in which they paid about $1,500 to a sheriff’s deputy to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate, sources said.

The revelation is the first public indication that the FBI’s investigations into allegations of inmate beatings and other deputy misconduct in the jails have uncovered possible criminal wrongdoing.

The FBI conducted the cellphone sting without notifying top Sheriff’s Department brass, enraging Sheriff Lee Baca and causing a rift between the two law enforcement agencies.

Baca, who is scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. to discuss the escalating tensions, went on television Monday to slam the FBI, saying smuggling a cellphone inside a secured lockup created a serious safety breach. Baca suggested that the FBI committed a crime by doing so.

“It’s illegal,” he said. “It’s a misdemeanor and then there’s a conspiracy law that goes along with it.”

Baca has not responded to repeated interview requests from The Times to discuss the federal inquiries into his jails, the nation’s largest. When asked about the deputy accused of smuggling the cellphone into the jail, Baca’s spokesman Steve Whitmore would only say: “We’re going to go wherever this investigation takes us.”

The Times reported Sunday that federal authorities are investigating inmate beatings and other misconduct by deputies in the jails. The allegations include deputies breaking one inmate’s jaw and beating another inmate for two minutes while he was unconscious.

In addition to the investigations surrounding the jails, federal authorities have two other inquiries involving the Sheriff’s Department. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division announced a broad “pattern and practice” investigation into allegations that deputies in the Antelope Valley discriminated against minority residents who receive government housing assistance. Also last month, The Times reported that a Sheriff’s Department captain had been put on leave after federal agents suspected hearing her voice on a wiretap of a suspected Compton drug ring.

Sources said Monday that the deputy allegedly caught in the sting accepted the money to smuggle the cellphone to the inmate, who was locked up at the Men’s Central Jail. Unbeknownst to the deputy, the inmate was working as an informant for the FBI, sources said.

The deputy, Gilbert Michel, 38, resigned shortly after sheriff’s officials put him on leave, , sources said. A source said the deputy, who has not been charged with a crime, is now the subject of a Sheriff’s Department criminal investigation. Michel could not be reached for comment.

Federal officials have declined to comment on their investigations and the Sheriff Department’s criticisms of their undercover operation.

Baca, however, spoke out Monday on KTTV-TV Channel 11’s “Good Day L.A.”, defending his department’s record in the jails and blasting the FBI. He suggested that the federal inquiry was unnecessary because all allegations of abuse within the jails are thoroughly investigated internally, and vetted by the department’s watchdog.

“We police ourselves,” he said.

The sheriff also questioned whether the FBI had the know-how to investigate his jails. “What kind of experience do you have in dealing with all this? And to what extent do you know the policies, the procedures and even the law?” Baca asked of the FBI.

He also criticized the FBI’s use of an inmate informant, identifying him as a man facing 400 years in prison for armed robbery. “Jailhouse informants quite frankly are problematic,” the sheriff said.

It’s unclear how Baca’s public critique of the FBI will affect the relationship between the two agencies, and more important, the many task forces, including one focusing on terrorism, in which the agencies serve together.

After his criticism of the FBI investigation, Baca went on to promote an upcoming charity run, mentioning that the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI would be in attendance.

“Will they be running from you or with you?” asked one reporter.

“Probably do a little of both,” Baca responded.

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Inmate Ran $1 Million Credit Card Scam Using Cell Phone

prison cellphone scam Inmate Ran $1 Million Credit Card Scam Using Cell Phone Armed with only an illegal cellphone and a cadre of secret shoppers, an inmate at the nation’s largest single federal prison was able to coordinate upwards of $1 million in credit card fraud in the outside world.

According to a rather exhaustive piece in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the inmate, already serving time in New Jersey for credit card fraud, would spend up to 17 hours a day on his phone, calling directory assistance to ask for the numbers of people with names that matched those of his cohorts on the outside.

He’d then call these people, posing as a staffer from a utility or cable provider, trying to wrest even a small portion of identifying info — birth date, some digits from their Social Security Number — from them. Then he’d call up the credit card companies, often pretending to be a fraud investigator at the same company, trying to turn that scrap of information into all the relevant details he would later need. If the employee became suspicious, he would hang up and try again until he found someone who he could sweet talk.

Once he had all the info to steal someone’s identity, he would once again contact the credit card folks, this time to either add one of his shopper’s as an approved user on the card or to have his shoppers’ name and info swapped in for the real user.

With that nasty business out of the way, the inmate’s secret shopper crew could now go about their business of running up huge credit card tabs on the heisted accounts. If stores checked with the credit card providers, these shoppers would show up as approved users, so they were able to go about their business unimpeded.

The shoppers would go into stores with detailed list of things to purchase, which would then be sold to pre-arranged buyers for around half of the retail value, all of it profit to the criminals.

It wasn’t until a detective from Ohio began investigating an incident at a local Lowe’s, where one of the shoppers had purchased over $14,000 of stuff with someone else’s card, that the inmate’s plot began to unravel. The investigation would eventually involve the U.S. Attorney’s office, the federal prison system and a wiretap on the inmate’s phone.

After investigators figured out how the inmate was directing his crew from behind bars, they identified a handful of stores that were to be visited by the secret shoppers. The stores were to allow the transactions to go through while investigators followed the shoppers and other crew members to find out how the goods were being distributed.

When police finally swooped in, the inmate was found to have three phones — it’s not known if they were used in the scam — along with notebooks full of names, credit card and Social Security Numbers.

Even after he was taken to Ohio to face these new charges, the inmate still managed to use the prison pay phone to continue his scheming. A search of his new prison cell turned up a six-page spreadsheet containing credit card information, a packet of receipts, canceled checks, bank statements and credit-card images.

He even attempted to pass himself off as a member of the U.S. Marshal’s service to get himself transferred to another prison.

The inmate eventually pleaded guilty to wire fraud and ID theft charges and was sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison. Authorities have asked that he be labeled “a serious telephone abuser” so that his access to prison pay phones will be limited.

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Guards Gave Jailed Terrorists Cell Phones for Cash

terrorist cell phone 300x242 Guards Gave Jailed Terrorists Cell Phones for CashPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would be toughening the conditions of imprisonment for terrorists but some jailors, it seems, did not “get the memo.”
According to the Yisrael Hayom newspaper, two jailors have been caught smuggling cell phones to imprisoned terrorists. A third reported being offered a bribe for a similar action.

One jailor was arrested recently and questioned by the Unit for Investigating Jailors on suspicion he smuggled cell phones to Hadarim Prison.

Another jailor, a former officer at the Ketziot Jail, has begun serving a jail sentence after confessing and being found guilty of smuggling cell phones to terrorists.

In addition, a jailor at Ne’er Sheva Prison reported that a certain security [i.e. terror, Ed.] prisoner offered him a sum of 150,000 shekels for assistance in smuggling in a cell phone.

Israel Prisons Service Commander Lt.-Gen. Aharon Franco has recently said that he intends to show zero tolerance toward personnel who collaborate with the smuggling.”

The terrorists have other creative means to get their hands on cell phones. In recent weeks, IPS has successfully stymied an attempt to smuggle 50 cell phones, 50 chargers and 50 SIM cards inside a delivery of vine leaves for terror prisoners at Ketziot.
A family recently visiting a terrorist tried to smuggle two cell phones in the undergarments of the prisoner’s wife. Two matching batteries were placed in the belt buckles of his sons.

Another woman, aged 67, was caught at the gate to Ramon Prison with a cell phone in her brassiere.

Since January, a total of 76 phones, 55 chargers, 51 memory cards and 435 SIM cards were caught at the entrances to the prisons.

The IPS has instructed staff to carry out thorough checks on whoever enters the jails and is currently evaluated more advanced machines for scanning people who wish to enter.

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Cell Phones Found in Dallas County Federal Prison

inmate with cell phone 300x200 Cell Phones Found in Dallas County Federal PrisonContraband prison cell phones are as much of a problem in federal prisons as they are in state facilities. The smuggling of cell phones into jails and prisons continues to grow and, as this article states, “The Federal Bureau of Prisons confiscated more than 2,600 cell phones from minimum-security facilities like FCI Seagoville, and nearly 600 from secure federal institutions in 2009.” That number surely grew in 2010 and 2011.

Two cell phones were discovered last week at the Federal Corrections Institution in Seagoville, NBCDFW has learned. FCI Seagoville executive assistant Jeff Butler would not elaborate how the phones may have gotten there.

“We investigate all allegations,” Butler said during a phone interview Thursday. “This is still under investigation.”

Operations at the federal prison are back to normal after guards worked for several days to locate all the smuggled phones.

The prison in Seagoville is not a traditional lockup, with individual holding areas. It is a low security dorm-style setting, and inmates are allowed to walk around fairly freely, potentially giving them broader access to contraband.

Inmates acquiring smuggled cell phones is one of the many battles prison systems nation-wide face daily. Convicted crooks can send text messages to cohorts outside the prison walls to do their bidding and still orchestrate crimes while in jail. Inmates in other states have coordinated simultaneous protests with inmates at other prisons.

A convicted killer in Oklahoma was caught last year posting pictures on a Facebook page of contraband like drugs, knives and alcohol that had been smuggled into his cell.

Even one of the country’s most famous inmates, Charles Manson, was caught calling people across the country on a phone guards discovered under his prison cell bed in March, 2009. He was caught with a second phone just last January.

In 2008, Texas death-row inmate Richard Tabler sparked a state-wide prison sweep after he called and threatened Texas State Sen. John Whitmire using a smuggled phone. That sparked the prison lockdown and a sweep that turned up 132 illegal phones.

“It’s a daily battle for us to make sure we’re maintaining the safety of the staff and inmate population at all times,” Butler said.

Corrections officials are trying new ways to strike back.

Many are testing a system to capture every cell phone signal from a prison and block unauthorized calls as they search for technology to stop what has become a growing problem inside prison walls.

Hoping to stop federal inmates from directing crimes from behind bars, President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 a prohibition on cell phone use by prisoners.

The law prohibits the use or possession of mobile phones and wireless devices, and calls for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of trying to smuggle one to an inmate.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons confiscated more than 2,600 cell phones from minimum-security facilities like FCI Seagoville, and nearly 600 from secure federal institutions in 2009.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons says FCI Seagoville is a low security facility housing male offenders. FCI Seagoville is located 11 miles southeast of Dallas, off Highway 175.

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Former Correctional Officer Stirs Up Ethical Questions At DC Jail

contraband cellphone Former Correctional Officer Stirs Up Ethical Questions At DC Jail Another article about the corrupting influence of contraband such as cell phones on guards in prison. Interestingly, this guard, “charged $200 to get drugs into the jail, $200 for a carton of cigarettes and $250 for a cell phone.” Is the ability to communicate with loved ones while in jail more valuable to prisoners than drugs or cigarettes?

On Monday a former District of Columbia Department of Corrections officer pleaded guilty to charges of accepting bribes in exchange for smuggling contraband into the jail for inmates.

Twenty-three year old Ryan Motley could receive as much as twelve years in prison for his role in bringing in cell phones and marijuana. Residents of the D.C. Jail, located on the southeast side of Capitol Hill, are not allowed to have cell phones in their possession, and marijuana is also illegal. Local prosecutors said he admitted to bringing in at least 10 cell phones and an undisclosed amount of marijuana into the jail. In return, Motley received an estimated $1,800.

Motley was stopped in November 2010, as he was entering the jail through a staff entrance. His operations began to unravel when a co-worker questioned him after discovering two cell phones in his protective vest.

A female returning citizen, Laura Norris, said, “When I was in the D.C. years ago, it didn’t feel any different than being out on the streets. Some of the people locked up had everything.” Norris said she recalled seeing cigarettes, marijuana, and other illegal items during her time there ten years ago. “I never did federal time, but I was sentenced to the D.C. Jail time.”

Smuggling items into the detention center has long been a problem. A guard, who wish to be unidentified, said, “We have a big problem with people bringing stuff into the jail. People are always looking for a way to make extra money. The biggest scheme I can think of in my career here was with Marshall and Adams, back in ‘07”

The guard is referring to D.C. corrections officers Dana Marshall, 52, and Sheri Adams, 30, who were arrested as part of a scheme that involved multiple jail officials and as many as thirty inmates. An unnamed inmate and undercover agent alleged that food, drugs, electronic devices (iPods and MP3 players), cell phones, and weapons have been illegally brought in by these two women. They were charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

The unidentified guard said that Marshall, who was stationed in the culinary department, where he could in a special diet tray and have an inmate assigned to the kitchen detail deliver the tray to another inmate. Adams acted as the “middle man,” authorities said. She met with the inmate’s contact outside the D.C. Jail to take the orders and money.

Adams charged $200 to get drugs into the jail, $200 for a carton of cigarettes and $250 for a cell phone. She brought the contraband to Marshall, who would smuggle in the goods.

A Washingtonian who was incarcerated at the jail for six months said, “I was there for half a year and saw a lot of stuff. I saw people listening to their iPods and even people talking on cell phones in their cells. All of these cats [guards] are doing it. The act isn’t going to end any time soon.”

David Carson, a DC resident who lives in the Potomac Gardens neighborhood, remarked, “It disturbs me that just blocks away this kind of stuff is going on. I thought the job or a corrections officer is to keep inmates safe while they are going through the court process. It only goes to show that correctional officers aren’t any different than the people they are sworn to oversee. To some that wear the badge, it doesn’t mean anything.”

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Prisons Can’t Stop Cell Phones From Reaching Cell Walls

prison cell detection 300x226 Prisons Can’t Stop Cell Phones From Reaching Cell WallsA story about the improper use of contraband cell phones in Texas prisons. A death row inmate paid $2100 for the phone. Fourteen death row inmates were found with contraband prison cell phones.

Texas State Senator John Whitmire calls it the most unusual phone call of his life. “Nothing shocks me anymore, but this would probably take first prize for the biggest, unbelievable story,” said the Senator from Houston. “No Texan should have to worry about getting a call from an inmate.”

In fact, Whitmire received several calls in October, 2008.

“He said ‘I’m here on death row. I’m an inmate,’” recalls Whitmire, who then asked the inmate how he got hold of a phone. “He said ‘I bought it for $2100.’”

The Democratic Senator says the calls came from death row inmate Richard Tabler. Before long, Tabler was revealing personal information about Whitmire’s daughters. “He was making references to my family as he was asking me for assistance. Law enforcement said that was to put me on notice.”

Whitmire alerted the authorities and Tabler’s cell phone was confiscated. But it didn’t end there. Death row inmate Licho Escamillia says the entire unit was searched. “They had a special team come down and conducted searches in our cells,” Escamillia said from his prison unit in Livingston.

Texas prison officials found cell phones on 14 death row inmates, including Escamillia. “They found it in the side of the wall. They found some chips on the wall and they broke it down and they pull the phone out.”

The man convicted of killing Dallas police officer Christopher James claims he had no idea the phone was hidden in his cell wall.

In 2010 791 cell phones were taken away from Texas prisoners. So far in 2011, about 260 have been confiscated.

“One is too many,” said Michelle Lyons from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “It’s a felony to possess a cell phone within a prison and obviously a lot of damage can be done with a cell phone.”

Inmates can use cell phones to run drugs, organize thefts and order hits on the outside world. Many phones are smuggled in inside cakes, shoes and body cavities.

Senator Whitmire says the Texas Department of Criminal Justice needs to wake up.

“I’m always upset with the prison system, because I don’t think they go to zero tolerance and they don’t have the energy behind this issue until we have an incident.”

Whitmire points to inmate David Puckett, who recently used a cell phone to escape from a prison near Beaumont. The senator says it finally lit a fire under prison officials. But his frustration doesn’t end there. He says in 2007 the Texas Legislature gave $17 million to the Department of Criminal Justice to improve security.

The TDCJ says it has spent $7.6 million of that money for the purchase of surveillance cameras, scanning equipment, metal detectors and internal body scanners. Whitmire wants to know why the rest hasn’t been spent. “I do not think it’s a high enough priority,” said the senator.

The one course of action both Whitmire and prison officials can agree on is the jamming of cell phones in Texas prisons.

“Ultimately, we would love to have the ability to use jamming technology,” said Lyons. “If you can’t use the phones inside the facility, then certainly it’s going to cut down on inmates even trying to get a phone in.”

However, FCC law prevents cell phone jamming anywhere. Senator Whitmire says the law needs to be updated.

“Let me tell you what I would do if I was running this place by myself,” Whitmire said with a sense for frustration. “I would jam them anyway and I would just see what the federal government did.”

But for now, that’s not an option. However, Texas prison officials are looking at other technology that would help them pinpoint where a phone signal is originating from within a prison.

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Harsher Penalties For Smuggling Cell Phones Into Jails?

confiscated cell phones1 300x200 Harsher Penalties For Smuggling Cell Phones Into Jails?This editorial makes the case that there should be stiff felony penalties for anyone caught smuggling cell phones into prisons or accepting bribes for cell phones. And that those penalties should be even tougher for prison guards. While tougher penalties may be effective, we believe reducing the contraband value of cell phones in prison will be the most effective way to reduce prison cell phone smuggling. If prisoners no longer need to pay $1000 or more for access to a wireless phone, prison guards will no longer be willing to risk their careers and freedom to smuggle cell phones into jails.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree in criminal justice to understand that prison inmates never should have access to cell phones. They use them to plot violent crimes inside and outside the prison, plot escapes and conduct drug deals with other inmates or contacts on the outside.

Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, agrees. He said, “Cell phone smuggling into California’s prisons is a very serious and growing problem. Public safety officials in prisons and prosecutors on the outside need additional tools to combat cell phone smuggling to inmates.”

One such tool should be stiff felony penalties for anyone smuggling cell phones into prisons or accepting bribes for phones. Those penalties should be even tougher for prison guards.

Unfortunately, it is the guards who are suspected of providing most of the cell phones to inmates, often taking bribes. Yet California continues to be lax in passing laws to crack down on the problem.

Possessing a cell phone behind bars violates prison rules, but still is not illegal. Inmates can lose early release credits, and employees caught smuggling phones can lose their jobs.

Even when someone is caught, the penalty is extraordinarily light. Last month, Terry Lane, a former California correctional officer from San Jose, was sentenced to just 45 days in jail for smuggling several cell phones to state prison inmates. The bribery charge was dropped in a plea bargain.

The best way to discourage prison guards from taking bribes for delivering cell phones is the use of tough penalties that include long prison terms, firing and permanent disqualification from ever working in a prison.

There are a few bills floating around in the Legislature to stiffen penalties for those who bring phones to inmates and or accept bribes for doing so.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, has introduced two bills this year that add penalties for inmates, employees or visitors smuggling cell phones.

Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, is carrying another bill that would require random searches of employees and contractors.

Action is long overdue. Prison officials say that the number of cell phones confiscated in California prisons has been growing rapidly over the past few years and has become a major problem that needs to be remedied.

If prison employees or visitors faced years behind bars for cell phone smuggling, we believe the practice would decline sharply. There is no good reason to delay legislation, even if there are added costs.

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Feinstein Urges Ban On Prison Cellphones

smuggled cell phone in shoe 300x225 Feinstein Urges Ban On Prison CellphonesOf course we know that making it illegal will not stop the demand and therefore not stop contraband cell phones from being smuggled into prisons. Only addressing the demand for prison cell phones by providing a secure prison cell phone service will reduce the contraband value of smuggled cell phones.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is lobbying to revive a bill that would make it illegal to smuggle cellphones into California prisons.

Currently, it’s a violation of prison rules for a prisoner to possess a cellphone, but it is not a crime.

Feinstein sponsored a bill making possession of a cellphone by an inmate in a federal prison punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. Now she is taking on the issue at the state level, pressing California legislative leaders to support a bill by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) that would do the same.

Legislators put the bill on hold a few weeks ago over fears it would cost too much to enforce. But Feinstein argued for its resuscitation, saying that cellphones in state prison are used to direct drug deals and killings.

“The Mexican Mafia and other gangs are able to operate while in prison through the use of coded internal communications and cellphones,” Feinstein wrote in a letter to key committee leaders in the California legislature, who are fellow Democrats.

The number of smuggled cellphones discovered in California prisons has skyrocketed in recent years, from 261 in 2006 to nearly 11,000 last year, according to prison officials.

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Prison Guard Faces Trial For Smuggling Cellphones

shower shoe cell phone Prison Guard Faces Trial For Smuggling CellphonesA former guard at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, OK was ordered Monday to stand trial on a charge of bringing two cell phones and several pouches of tobacco into secure areas of the private prison in Cushing.

Danny James Galbreath, 24, of Broken Arrow, waived his right Monday to a preliminary hearing on the felony count of bringing cell phones into the prison — which are considered contraband in a penal facility.

Galbreath remains free on $15,000 bail pending his arraignment in district court on May 27 on the two-count charge including the misdemeanor count of bringing tobacco into the prison — which is also considered contraband.

Galbreath was arrested at the prison shortly after noon on Jan. 5, by Cushing Police Officer Carson Watts, who was sent there on a report of an employee bringing contraband into the prison, court records show.

Prison Chief of Security Donald Steer told the Cushing officer that an inmate had provided information that Galbreath “has been bringing cellular phones and tobacco into the facility,” Watts wrote in an affidavit.

“Chief Steer then showed me a written statement completed by Corrections Officer Galbreath admitting to bringing in the contraband,” Watts alleged in his affidavit.

“I asked Corrections Officer Galbreath what he has brought into the prison. He told me two cellular phones and several pouches of tobacco,” Watts alleged in his affidavit.

“Corrections Officer Galbreath told me that he received $100 per phone and $50 per pouch of tobacco,” Watts alleged in his affidavit.

“I asked Corrections Officer Galbreath how he got paid to bring in the contraband, and he told me that he had to meet an inmate’s mother at her residence and she gave him the money,” Watts alleged in his affidavit.

“Corrections Officer Galbreath continued to say that he would then take the money, and use a portion of the money to purchase a $20 cell phone or the tobacco,” the affidavit alleged.

Galbreath said he got the phones inside the prison by taping them to the inside of his forearm, the affidavit alleged.

“Corrections Officer Galbreath said that when the metal detectors would go off, the officer would pat-search him, but would not search the underside of his forearm,” the affidavit alleged.

“I asked how he got the tobacco into the prison and he said that he would put the tobacco into bags of chips when he walked into the prison,” the officer alleged in his affidavit.

If convicted of both counts, the former prison guard could be incarcerated for three years and fined $3,000, according to the charges filed by First Assistant District Attorney Mike Kulling.

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Going High-Tech To Eliminate Prison Cell Phones

cell phone smuggled Going High Tech To Eliminate Prison Cell PhonesThe dark gray device used to detect cell phones looks like an oversized walkie-talkie.

When Scott Schober, president of a Metuchen technology company, flipped it on in an officer cafeteria at a New Jersey jail several months ago, a warning immediately flashed.

“I turned around and walked out and said, ‘You’ve got phones in there,”‘ he said, describing the demonstration he gave for officials. “They basically said, ‘We’re not surprised.”‘

Cell phones are illegal in jails and prisons, and officers are supposed to be on the front lines of keeping them out. For Schober, the incident highlighted the pervasive nature of a problem that has dogged prison officials here and around the country.

State and county corrections officials in New Jersey are quietly testing new technology as they step up efforts to stem the tide of illegal phones behind bars. Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan said an internal committee is examining whether to invest in detection equipment, along with recommending ways to improve security.

Law enforcement officials say phones can be as dangerous as weapons and allow inmates to continue terrorizing neighborhoods long after they’ve been locked up. Prisoners with cell phones have directed gang activity. They have intimidated witnesses. One inmate at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton allegedly ordered, over a cell phone, the murder of an ex-girlfriend who testified during his trial.
But despite security upgrades and increased penalties for having phones in prison, there are signs the problem is getting worse in New Jersey.

Inmates are making fewer calls on prison land lines, which can be monitored by officers. Meanwhile, the number of phones found in prisons has increased 50 percent over the last year. The most phones, 190 of 259 this year, were in Northern State Prison in Newark, one of the state’s most secure facilities.

“There are routinely finds of cell phones that you don’t hear about,” Lanigan said. “Searches have been enhanced. They just have to be enhanced more.”

With phones costing $500 on the prison black market, some officers have allegedly sought a cut of the action.

On Sept. 23, authorities announced the indictment of former corrections officer Luis Roman, saying he circumvented security by stashing phones and drugs under his protective vest or in his boots, then used a network of inmates to distribute them inside the prison.

Lanigan said officers can make $40,000 a year smuggling contraband into prisons, calling it an “inducement” for corruption.

“I can’t stand here and say we don’t have corrupt employees,” he said.

Jim McGonigal, president of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association, which represents corrections sergeants, said pursuing high-profile cases against officers helps deter future corruption.

“We have to send a message to the staff: If you do something stupid like this, there’s going to be consequences,” he said. “I don’t mean taking away your pension. I mean serious jail time.”

Corrections started tracking phone seizures separately in August 2008. Over the next year, 266 phones were found in prisons, according to officials. Then, from August 2009 to July 2010, 339 phones were found, a 50 percent increase.
Corrections spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer said more seizures are the result of more searches.

“The searches will continue to be vigorous and frequent, the prosecutions for corrupted staff, visitors and inmates will go on, and we are not ruling anything out in our pursuit to rid the prisons of cell phones,” she said.

Lanigan says the ultimate solution is to legalize jamming cell phone signals in prisons, now banned by the Federal Communications Commission. He is one of many prison officials across the country who, along with elected leaders including Gov. Chris Christie, are pushing a bill in Congress to change that.

The bill has already cleared the U.S. Senate, but the version in the House of Representatives is still in committee.

A group advocating for cell phone companies has opposed the bill, and companies that sell alternate technologies criticize jamming as clumsy and raise concerns it could block legitimate communication near the prison.

Some prison systems have implemented other measures.

Mississippi recently became the first state to install antennas that intercept cell phone communications within a prison. When someone tries to send a text message or make a call, the antenna catches the signal and checks a database to see if it came from a registered number.

Authorized calls are rerouted to commercial carriers, while unauthorized calls are stopped. In one month, the state blocked 216,320 communication attempts, Mississippi officials said.

Fedkenheuer said the technology may not be the right fit for New Jersey because there’s no need to allow authorized calls all cell phones are banned from state prisons.

There are other methods to detect and locate phones in prisons. For example, New Jersey was the first state to train dogs to hunt phones.

Others, like Schober’s company, are pushing high-tech options. Schober said his handheld devices can detect the signals cell phones send when turned on or transmitting data. A directional antenna helps locate the phone. He said his company has sold about two dozen devices in New Jersey, but won’t say who bought them.

Lanigan believes jamming prison phones is the future. It’s the best way, he is fond of saying, to turn a cell phone into a “4-ounce piece of garbage.”

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