Tag Archives: proliferation

In Prison, A Cellphone Really Is A “Cell” Phone

This article by David Yannetti, describes not only the criminal uses of contraband prison cell phones, but also the potentially positive effects on maintaining family ties via a managed and secure prison cell phone solution:

Recent news reports highlight the challenge prison officials face in dealing with the proliferation of cell phone usage in prison across the nation.

Cell phones are nominally prohibited for prisoners in all state and federal prisons, but they turn up by the thousands, and the problem has been made even more difficult with the advent of Smartphones.

With a Smartphone, prisoners may have full access to the Internet, allowing all forms of activity, from contacting friends and family and shopping to directing attacks on other prisoners and criminal activity outside the prison.

Strikes Organized with the Help of Facebook

In Georgia, the New York Times reported, prisoners organized a strike using cellphones and internet applications like Facebook. The protest was concerned with the lack of pay for their work, bad food and limited visitation policies.

Unlike other protests, the prisoners were able to post up-to-minute reports and follow their coverage in the news media.

Prison officials have struggled to come up with a workable solution to prevent this prisoner access to cellphones. Results have been mixed. In California, 11,000 phones were confiscated in 2010. South Carolina collects 2,000 a year.

Some are smuggled in, but many are literally thrown “over the wall.” They have been kicked in soccer and footballs, shot through “potato guns” and are often thrown in packs camouflaged with grass to make it difficult for guards to discover them laying inside the fence.

Search Everyone?

Can’t everyone be searched? Well, yes, but that costs money. California has estimated that searching all employees and contractors entering the prisons within the state system would cost $20 million. Even limited, random searches are calculated to cost $1.3 million annually.

Jam the Signal?

No, the federal Communication Act of 1934 prohibits jamming of radio frequencies.

The most promising technological solution could be the system introduced in Mississippi. Known as managed access, it allows the system to track every call and text. Cellphones that are not on the approved receive a message saying the device is illegal and are disabled.

California, with largest state prison system, will follow the lead of Mississippi and implement a system of managed access. In Mississippi, the system intercepted over 600,000 calls and texts during the six-month trial period.


While the phones may used for criminal or dangerous behavior, there is an aspect of the issue that shouldn’t be ignored. Cellphones are used by prisoners to communicate with their family. The New York Times article notes that David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Inmates are more likely to successfully re-enter society if they maintain relationships with friends and families.”

A prisoner named Mike is mentioned in the story as regularly speaking with his son when the boy gets off the school bus and when he goes to bed at night. Prison often has a corrosive affect on family relationships, so developing a way to use cellphones to lessen this effect would be helpful. A managed network could be constructed to permit certain prisoners to have operational cell phones, say, as a reward for good behavior.

As the Justice Center of the Council on State Government reports, 77 percent of state prisoners will be released back to their communities.

While it is important to control cellphone usage to for the safety of prison personnel and other inmates, ignoring the needs of inmates who will be released can only lead to increased recidivism and a return of many to prison, carrying with it the all of associated costs to the states that they can ill afford.

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Cellphones Don’t Belong In These Cells

We agree that unmonitored contraband cell phones don’t belong in prison cells, but we believe that a secure prison cell phone solution such as meshDETECT can not only reduce the demand for smuggled cell phones but also enhance safety, decrease recidivism and increase prison revenues.

Download our whitepaper “Reducing the Demand for Contraband Cell Phones in Correctional Facilities” to learn more.

Sarah Pender orchestrated her escape from Rockville Correctional Facility in 2008 using contraband cellphones and a network of accomplices.

Pender, who was featured as one of “America’s Most Wanted’s” Top Ten Fugitives before her capture, showed state prison officials the danger of prisoners using technology behind bars.

Todd Tappy, deputy chief of internal affairs in the Indiana Department of Correction, said cellphones rival weapons as a top threat to safety in Indiana’s prisons.

Prisoners have used cellphones to traffic drugs and tobacco, organize assaults, intimidate witnesses and victims, order people killed or coordinate escapes — as Pender did. Unlike calls made through the prison system, prison officials can’t monitor inmates’ cellphone calls.

“We have serious concerns about their introduction into any of our facilities,” said Traci Billingsley, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons.

More than 1,760 cellphones were confiscated from Indiana state prisons in 2010, Department of Correction data show. The Bureau of Prisons confiscated more than 3,600 cellphones nationwide last year from its federal prisons.

Illinois prison officials, on the other hand, confiscated only five cellphones in 2010, data provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections show.

Stacey Solano, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said she couldn’t explain the difference. She said Illinois’ numbers might be so low because of officials’ vigilance in searching prisoners, staff and visitors.

“We do everything we can within our power to make sure cellphones and other contraband don’t make it into our facilities,” Solano said.

The proliferation of cellphones in prisons can have dire consequences.

In South Carolina, an off-duty prison official was shot six times in the chest and stomach last year in his home. He survived the attack, which was ordered by an inmate using a smuggled cellphone.

A New Jersey inmate used a contraband cellphone last year to order the slaying of his former girlfriend in retaliation for her initial cooperation in a police investigation about him.

In Tennessee, a Nashville police officer was shot in 2009 by a man who had escaped from a Mississippi prison with the help of a cellphone.

Tappy said Indiana prisoners buy cellphones for anywhere from $400 to more than $1,000 — depending on the difficulty of getting them into a facility.

Indiana prison officials search prisoners cells, use metal detectors and conduct more thorough searches of their own staff, contractors, visitors and prisoners. Tappy said Indiana also uses dogs trained specifically to sniff out wireless devices.

“It’s dangerous not only to the offenders but to the public,” Tappy said. “We have to do everything we can to keep (cellphones) out of our facilities.”


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Contraband Prison Cell Phone Bill Moves Forward

The following article discusses the contraband cell phone legislation now moving through the California legislature. According to the article, a guard who was caught smuggling cell phones into prison, “boasted that he made more than $100,000 a year selling mobile devices to inmates.” A typical guard makes $60,000 per year in salary. A phone can net up to $1,000 on the prison black market and 6,000 were been found during the first five months of 2011. This bill may stop some from trying to smuggle a cell phone into prison, but like drug smuggling, if there is demand, especially at $1000 per wireless phone, there will be supply. The only way to suppress demand is to co-opt it by providing a secure cell phone solution to prisoners that siphons off demand and reduces the value of a smuggled cell phone.

Smuggling cells phones into California correctional facilities has become so commonplace that even Charlie Manson got caught twice with one, and now the state legislature is taking a step toward preventing further proliferation of the devices behind bars.

An Assembly committee Thursday approved a proposal designed to crack down on both smuggling and possession of cell phones and other wireless communication devices by inmates. The bill, SB26 (Padilla, D-Pacoima), has already passed the Senate and now goes to the lower house for a vote.

CalCoastNews reported in July about an incident of prison smuggling being related to prison staff as the Padilla bill progresses. Surveillance video at the California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo County captured a correctional officer smuggling a cell phone into the prison.

Soon thereafter, the accused guard retired and allegedly boasted that he made more than $100,000 a year selling mobile devices to inmates. A phone can net up to $1,000 on the prison black market.

Until recently, a correctional officer caught smuggling would simply retire, quietly, unpunished. Inmates found their phones removed and certain privileges revoked.

Padilla said that more than 10,750 contraband phones were taken from state prisoners in 2010, and that another 6,000 were been found during the first five months of 2011.

“We know that inmates with cell phones are ordering murders, organizing escapes, facilitating drug deals, controlling street gangs and terrorizing rape victims. With this bill we will finally crack down on cell phones in California prisons,” the lawmaker said.

The proposal raises the penalty for smuggling a cell phone to a prisoner to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 for each device.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill without explanation.


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GOP Asks For Stronger Cellphone Bill

An update on the contraband prison cell phone legislation currently being considered in California. According to the article, S.B. 26 is Senator Padilla’s fourth attempt to criminalize smuggling and possession of cellphones in prison. A quote from the article, “This cell phone issue is a huge problem in our prison system, and (S.B. 26) is a good start to begin to address it” is no doubt accurate, but the law should be augmented by a secure prison cell phone service that reduces the contraband value of the smuggled phones.

A bill aimed at curbing widespread cellphone proliferation in state prisons is on its way to the state Assembly after clearing the Senate.

Senate Bill 26 attempts to crack down on the smuggling of cellphones and other wireless communication devices into California prisons – such as California Institution for Men and California Institution for Women, both in Chino.

The bill – which was introduced by State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys – was approved 39 to 0 by the Senate last week.

The Assembly’s Public Safety Committee is expected to next hear the bill.

Under the proposed legislation, smuggling a cellphone into prison would bring a misdemeanor charge, which would be punishable by six months in jail, as well as a fine of up to $5,000 per phone.

Inmates who are found to be in possession of the devices would face a loss of time credits that could not be restored.

Local Republican lawmakers said the legislation should have carried a felony punishment for violators.

An earlier incarnation of the bill, S.B. 434, would have made the act of smuggling a felony, but the proposal was killed in committee over concerns that it would aggravate prison overcrowding, officials said.

“It’s very difficult to get liberal legislators to pass anything with a felony out of committee anymore,” said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who sits on the Public Safety Committee. “With a misdemeanor, all it’s going to do is let people with six-month sentences out after a day or two because of overcrowding. I wish this was stronger.”

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said that while he supports S.B. 26, the legislation should have carried a felony charge for violators.

“You have shot callers ordering hits from inside, and there are a lot of guys continuing their criminal career,” Donnelly said. “I think it’s time to put a stop to it in the name of public safety and common sense.”

Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, said inmate overcrowding is preventing the bill from carrying a felony charge.

“We would all love to be more punitive, but with the issue of overcrowding, I think this is a good compromise, and I am supportive,” Torres said. “I represent the Chino prison. I’ve been there more times then I care to spend. This cell phone issue is a huge problem in our prison system, and (S.B. 26) is a good start to begin to address it.”

Prison inmates have used smuggled cellphones to plan attacks, coordinate drug movement and sales, direct street gangs, communicate with other inmates and the public, videotape guard tactics as well as arrange escapes, officials said.

Cellphone usage in state prisons has recently exploded. Nearly 11,000 cell phones were found in state prisons in 2010, compared to 261 in 2006.

The phones can fetch up to $1,000 each in prison.

Under current law, smuggling cellphones into state prison does not carry criminal or financial sanctions, Padilla said.

S.B. 26 is Padilla’s fourth attempt to criminalize smuggling and possession of cellphones in prison.

Cult leader Charles Manson, who is doing time at Corcoran State Prison in Kings County, was twice caught possessing a cellphone in the past two years.

“Criminals like Charles Manson, who had two cellphones, don’t deserve a friends and family plan,” Hagman said.


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Cell Phones in Prison: A Former Inmate Explains the Real Deal

This article on prison cell phones discusses how, despite all the press on the nefarious uses of smuggled prison cell phones, the real driver of prison cell phone smuggling is the desire of inmates to stay in touch with family and friends.

A former long-serving federal inmate living in South Florida says the real reason for the proliferation of cell phones in prisons has more to do with privately owned institutions gouging inmates and their families with ridiculously overpriced phone time than it does organized crime.

The ex-con — who advocates for other political issues and asked that his name not be used here — points out that phone calls made legally from prison are expensive and short.

Though they are banned, cell phones are prevalent in prison, with authorities confiscating tens of thousands of smuggled phones every year, according to a recent New York Times article. Prisoners use the phones to help control the flow of drugs both in and out of prisons, to organize protests, to set up Facebook pages, and in some cases, to conduct interviews with the media. Mostly, though, they use the phones to stay in touch with family members on the outside.

“Toward to end of my time in, cell phones began to appear in large numbers,” says the local ex-con, who served more than two decades for nonviolent crimes. “The vast majority were used by inmates desperate to stay in touch with, and hold on to, their wives and children.”

The calls were so expensive, this inmate could afford only one or two short calls to his family a week.

“If my wife, child, or a close friend were ill, I would blow the month’s phone budget,” he says.

According to the Times story, many of the phones are simply tossed over prison walls, and the phone bills are paid for by families. Prisons across the country are struggling to figure out a way to block phone services within prisons without violating FCC regulations.

From the Times:

In Oklahoma, a convicted killer was caught in November posting photographs on his Facebook page of drugs, knives and alcohol that had been smuggled into his cell. In 2009, gang members in a Maryland prison were caught using their smartphones to approve targets for robberies and even to order seafood and cigars.

Even closely watched prisoners are sneaking phones in. Last month, California prison guards said they had found a flip phone under Charles Manson’s mattress.

The logical solution would be to keep all cellphones out of prison. But that is a war that is being lost, corrections officials say. Prisoners agree. “Almost everybody has a phone,” said Mike, 33, an inmate at Smith State Prison in Georgia who, like other prisoners interviewed for this article, asked that his full name not be used for fear of retaliation. “Almost every phone is a smartphone. Almost everybody with a smartphone has a Facebook.”

In this case, says the local ex-con, the real crime is the inflated cost of calls, which force concerned prisoners to opt for illicit forms of communication:

“The real cost of a call is pennies, but prisons make a huge profit from inmate phones. Most inmates can’t afford to stay in touch with family. That is the root cause of the cell phone problem in prisons.”

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