Tag Archives: prison staff

UK Prison To Trial Phones In Prison Cells

Providing prisoners secure cell phones is an idea whose time has come. The latest British prison to provide land-line phones in prison cells to control the contraband cell phone problem is being chosen for a trial of service. This is after a similar successful trial in a private UK prison. According to the article, the reason for this latest initiative is, “to stamp out the illegal use of mobiles in prisons and the flourishing black market in smuggled phones. It will also end the scenes, made familiar by television dramas, of inmates queuing to use public phones on prison landings.”

Rather than undertaking the cost and hassle of wiring phones in cells, the benefit of using secure cell phones such as those provided by meshDETECT, would be that they can be handed out only to those who have earned them through good behavior. Still, this is a step in the right direction. The time has come to address the demand side of the supply-and-demand equation of smuggled cell phones in prison

Prisoners could soon have telephones installed in their cells, allowing them to make calls from their beds.

Officials are searching for a suitable jail to pilot the scheme and HMP Isis, a young offenders’ institution in South East London, is believed to be the most likely choice. The prison can hold 252 inmates in single and double cells, and each cell would have a landline phone installed.

The move is intended to stamp out the illegal use of mobiles in prisons and the flourishing black market in smuggled phones. It will also end the scenes, made familiar by television dramas, of inmates queuing to use public phones on prison landings.

Many people will regard the move as another perk for prisoners – but prison staff are backing the plan.

Mark Freeman, deputy general secretary at the Prison Officers Association, said: ‘We think it will improve control in prison.

‘There is a major problem with mobiles at present. People smuggle them in and there is a massive black market. Others bring in SIM cards. The more business-minded prisoners run the operation like a BT monopoly.

‘Then there are the problems with public phones on wings. There are complaints about long queues and inmates having phone cards snatched from them by bullies. Often only one of the three phones will be working.’

Mr Freeman said calls from cells would be recorded and monitored but insisted that, as staff would no longer have to supervise queues for the public phones, the scheme would save money in the long run.

Prisoners will have to pay for their own calls by buying phone cards or credit from the prison shop. They will also be issued with a personal account and PIN number which has to be dialled before getting an outside line. There will be no incoming calls.Inmates will have to supply prison staff with the names, addresses and phone numbers of people they wish to call

These lists will be vetted and agreed in advance to ensure that prisoners are not harassing victims or organising drug deals or other criminal rackets from behind bars.

Calls to sex lines and bookmakers will also be barred.

Precise details are still to be finalised and may vary from prison to prison. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: ‘The Prison Service is currently exploring the possibility of a pilot installation in a state-run establishment. We cannot be more specific about where the pilot site will be at this stage.’

The plan has angered some in the criminal justice system.

Chief Supt Derek Barnett, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, said: ‘This sends a confused message to many police officers who have spent time and effort investigating serious crimes and seeing the perpetrators sent to prison.

‘It’s important for prisoners to keep in touch with their families, but it would be difficult for police, victims and the public to understand this latest idea.’

John Howson, a council member of the 28,000-strong Magistrates’ Association, also accepted the importance of prisoners keeping in touch with family, but said a phone should be a ‘reward for hard work and good behaviour’.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, warned of the dangers of abuse.

He said many men were in jail following serious harassment of women, often ex-partners, and that one jail ¬currently held about 40 stalkers.

The vetting system would have to be very thorough to ensure there was no abuse, Mr Fletcher said. ‘Some women have had serious breakdowns and the danger is that the harassment could continue.’

Phil Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, West Yorkshire, is to raise the issue with Ministers. He said: ‘This is a ridiculous idea and is happening because the prison service is being run for the convenience of prisoners and staff.

‘The point is to be able to reduce the number of officers on duty. It’s another example of the justice system going soft, which makes the public lose confidence in it.

‘Many prisoners have a better standard of living inside than on the outside. No wonder people ask why prison doesn’t stop them reoffending.’

Phones have been installed in privately run prisons but this is the first time there has been a move to put them in state-run institutions.


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Corrections Officer On Probation For Smuggling Cell Phones

The main source of contraband cell phones in prison is the prison staff, including guards. They smuggle cell phones because the demand for wireless phones is so high that they can charge as much as $1000 per phone. This officer only received probation after being caught smuggling two cell phones. The threat of as many as three years in prison did not dissuade him from bringing contraband cell phones into his jail.

A former corrections officer at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown was placed on probation for two years after pleading guilty Wednesday in Washington County District Court to smuggling telephones to two inmates.

Chad Struntz, 26, of 11610 Poplar Ave., Cumberland, Md., received probation before judgment after entering the plea before visiting Judge Frederick Bower, according to court records.

Under probation before judgment, a conviction can be removed from the defendant’s record if he or she successfully completes probation.

Struntz was placed on probation before judgment over the objection of the prosecution, Assistant State’s Attorney Leon Debes said after the hearing.

Struntz was interviewed on April 6 as part of an investigation into the discovery of a cellphone in the cell of two inmates, according to the application for statement of charges. The investigation revealed that Struntz had purchased the phone on Feb. 27, the charging documents said.

Struntz told investigators that he had purchased and delivered a cellphone to an inmate on two occasions in exchange for money, the documents said. The second phone was also recovered.

Struntz was charged with two counts of delivering a telecommunication device, court records said. The second charge was dismissed as part of the plea agreement, the records said.

State prison inmates are prohibited from having cellphones. The maximum penalty for delivering a telecommunication device to an inmate is three years in prison, court documents said.


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Prison Staff Balks at Contraband Cell Phone Searches

These searches are necessary because the high contraband value of smuggled prison cell phones has a corrupting influence on guards and staff. With prisoners paying as much as $1000 per contraband cell phone, the temptation to smuggled wireless devices is too much for some prison staff. We beleive part of the solution is to lower the contraband value of the smuggled cell phones by implementing the meshDETECT secure cell phone service solution.

Random staff searches that are part of an effort to curb the smuggling of cell phones into state prisons are drawing objections from the powerful union representing correctional officers.

At issue is a two-year program – known as Operation Disconnect – that requires all adult prisons to conduct monthly searches of employees and others as they enter state facilities.

Fewer than 500 cell phones have been confiscated under the program, though some lawmakers still suspect prison employees are the main suppliers of cell phones that are reaching inmates in ever-larger numbers.

But Joe Baumann, a chapter president with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said the modest results suggest the program is targeting the wrong people.

“Staff are just a small part of the problem,” he said. “If an employee is dirty, word gets out pretty quickly.”

Baumann said the union has complained to state officials that the searches are misguided and overly intrusive.

“There are no boundaries as far as how invasive the searches are,” he said. “People have had to take off jumpsuits, pull off vests, pull up T-shirts. They’re setting themselves up for litigation with the way they’re doing this.”

Baumann declined to say whether the union has any immediate plans to challenge the program with a lawsuit but he warned that “something is going to have to happen” if the department fails to make changes.

Unlike many other states and the federal government, California does not routinely search staff as they enter state prisons. (Visitors are required to pass through metal detectors.)

Some state officials have said they would like to impose airport-like security checks on staff at all state prisons. But Baumann said such a move would require the state to renegotiate its contract with the union and would add to the time it takes correctional officers to get from their cars, or the prison gate, to their work stations. Union members are paid for this “walk time.” Added walk time could cost the state millions, according to some analysts.

While the union presses prison officials to modify the searches, lawmakers are calling for new legislation that would toughen security and sanctions.

Last month U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein appealed to the state Senate Appropriations Committee to revive a bill that would stiffen the penalties for smuggling cell phones into California prisons.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, is sponsoring legislation that would transfer oversight for searches of prison staff to the inspector general’s office “to ensure there is a neutral third party watching these to ensure their integrity.”

Alquist said the department’s current program isn’t going far enough.

“We have seen a 38 percent increase in the number of cell phones found in prisons in the first three months of this year compared to the same period last year,” Alquist said. “Given those numbers, I cannot say the department is doing a good job stopping cell phones from getting into prisons.”

“A public safety problem of this significance and magnitude should not be left to the discretion of a department to address,” she said.

Last year, more than 10,000 cell phones turned up inside prisons but so far officials have failed to close the pipeline that feeds the lucrative trade. Prices for “jail phones” reach as high as $1,000.

Corrections officials defended Operation Disconnect, saying it uses existing funding and is just part of a multi-prong effort to disrupt the trade in contraband phones.

“The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is working hard to stop cell phones from getting into prisons,” said spokeswoman Terry Thornton. “We’ve identified this as a major priority but obviously a lot more can be done.”

Thornton was unable to provide data on the number of staff disciplined under Operation Disconnect.

However, earlier this year the department informed state lawmakers that it disciplined 200 prison staff for cell phone smuggling in 2009, including 100 peace officers. Of the 200 employees, eight people were dismissed from state service.


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CA Prisons Seek Jammers in Cellphones Crackdown

The “legitimate” use of prison cell phones by prisoners to stay in contact with friends and family is highlighted in this article. Amazingly over 10,000 contraband prison cell phones were confiscated in California prisons in 2010. That is lost revenue the state could have earned by deploying the meshDETECT Secure Prison Cell Phone Solution.

Bidders on the upcoming California prisons contract for inmates’ pay phone service will be asked to include equipment to block cellphone calls. Civil libertarians say cellphones help inmates’ positive behavior.

Update (4/19/12) This bid has been awarded to GTL

Frustrated by the state’s inability to prevent thousands of illicit cellphone calls made by inmates from its prisons, California’s corrections chief is seeking help from an industry that has a big financial interest in his cause.

Prisons Secretary Matthew Cate said he will offer a deal to companies that bid for the next contract to provide phone service for state inmates: Install costly equipment that will block cellphone calls and see profits surge as prisoners use authorized services to connect with the outside world.

“If cellphones are inoperable, the company will make more money,” Cate said in a recent interview.

Prisoners are supposed to use pay phones mounted on the walls of their housing units to call people outside. They are charged collect call rates, and the conversations are recorded and monitored by prison staff. But the proliferation of smuggled cellphones in recent years has reduced use of the authorized phones and the ability to monitor them, and officials say they cannot afford the technology to block cellular signals.

The contract for inmate phone service is up for renewal. Cate wants the winning bidder to pay the estimated $16.5 million to $33 million that it would cost to install “managed access” systems in all 33 state prisons.

In one day earlier this year, a test of the system intercepted more than 4,000 attempts to place calls, send text messages and access the Internet from smuggled cellphones at a single prison, said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Paul Verke. He would not reveal which prison, citing security concerns.

Use of authorized phones went up by 64% in the days after the test, Verke said.

Dorothy Cukier, an attorney for Global Tel Link, the Alabama company that supplies pay phones and collect call service to California’s prisons, said that “contraband cellphones certainly have had an impact” on the number of calls placed from her company’s phones. The firm “welcomes the opportunity to discuss” Cate’s proposal, she said.

Prisoners’ rights advocates and civil libertarians say Cate’s plan would lead to financial exploitation of inmates and their families, many of whom struggle to pay for daily necessities. A typical 15-minute call from an inmate costs about $2.

“When the prison system gives the phone company a monopoly, they jack up the price,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national prison project. “What we want to do is encourage more contact. That’s a prime predictor of [inmates’] success in the future.”

Bobby Taylor, who was recently released from Avenal State Prison in Central California, where he served part of a 19-month sentence for drunk driving, said he had a Samsung phone for most of his time there. He stayed out of trouble checking Facebook, following his favorite fishing websites and staying in touch with his 13-year-old daughter, he said.

“The prison system is mad because nobody uses the phones on the wall anymore,” Taylor said.

The state’s take from the pay phone concession was $26 million in 2008, when legislation was passed to bring down the cost of inmates’ calls. The government’s share has been reduced by $6.5 million per year since, prison officials said, and will be reduced further, to $800,000, this year.

Prison officials have been warning legislators that the explosion of smuggled cellphones — guards confiscated 261 devices in 2006 and more than 10,000 in 2010 — poses a public safety threat. Inmates use them to run criminal enterprises from behind bars and arrange assaults on enemies inside. Even the most closely watched inmates have been caught with them. Notorious killer Charles Manson has been caught with two.

Legislators complain that prison employees are the most likely sources of smuggled phones because, unlike visitors who must go through metal detectors, employees are not searched on their way into work.

Taylor said he rarely saw anyone using the wall-mounted pay phones during his sentence at Avenal.

“I think the only time people would use the wall phones,” he said, “was to call their people” on the outside “and get another cellphone.”


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