Tag Archives: Rehabilitation

Prisoners At HMP Birmingham To Be Given In-Cell Phones

HMP-Birmingham-Winson-Green-prison Following a trend in the UK, another prison will install in-cell phones. According to the article, the reasons for this deployment are positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation, encouraging the maintenance of family ties, and reducing the prevalence of illegal mobile phones.

Prisoners will have phones installed in their cells under new plans for a Midland prison. The move at HMP Birmingham, which takes inmates from across the Black Country, comes despite a law being introduced last year which made it a crime for inmates to have mobile phones behind bars.

Security firm G4S, which runs the Winson Green prison, is introducing the phones because staff say it can have a ‘positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation’.

Prisoners will only be allowed to dial numbers approved by the prison, and each inmate will have to pay their own call charges. Their conversations can also be recorded or listened to for security purposes.

The prison, which has a capacity of 1,450 male adults, already allows inmates to have televisions in their cells at the cost of £1 a week per cell.

It has also emerged that HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton, had cell phones fitted when it was built in 2012. G4S spokesman Michael Baker said: “Our experience is that in-cell phones can have a positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation, not only encouraging the maintenance of family ties, but reducing the prevalence of illegal mobile phones.”

He added: “New prisons are built with in-cell phones and although HMP Birmingham dates back to 1849, we are introducing them into the establishment. Access to telephones, like any other privilege, is dependent on prisoners’ continued good behaviour.”

In March last year the Crime and Security Act was passed which stated that prisoners risked extra time being tagged onto their sentences if they were caught with a mobile phones. It aimed to cut down on prisoners keeping in touch with their criminal contacts while inside.

But in the first eight months of the new laws there were 109 prisoners found with phones at HMP Birmingham, 38 convicts had phones at HMP Featherstone and two at HMP Oakwood.

There are no plans to introduce the phone system in HMP Featherstone which neighbours Oakwood.

Last year it emerged that a permanent police team has been based at Winson Green prison to crack down on drugs being thrown over its walls to inmates.

Two detectives and two intelligence specialists are based behind bars, to stop banned substances being smuggled into the prison and thrown over walls.

The force says it is cheaper to base staff there permanently, despite G4S being on a multi-million pound contract to run the jail, as it stops officers being repeatedly called in to tackle crime.

It comes after 236 occasions of contraband goods, including drugs and mobile phones, some stuffed in tennis balls or footballs, being thrown over HMP Birmingham’s walls in 2011.

G4S, has also fitted netting over exercise yards to stop throw-over attempts hitting the ground.


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Chief Inspector of Prisons Says Prisoners Should Be Given In-Cell Phones

prison-phone-in-cellAdd yet another voice to the growing chorus of high level prison administrators who advocate for increased prisoner access to telecommunications to address a host of problems in prison. Among the reasons Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons in the UK, who heads up the prison system there, gave for this recommendation:

  • The illegal use of mobile phones was widespread in most prisons and installing phones in cells would enable more calls to be monitored.
  • Making inmates wait to use a phone on the landing and then asking prison officers to control the scrum as prisoners battled for five minutes to talk was a waste of scarce resources.
  • In-cell phones would be monitored, with the calls paid for by prisoners and inmates restricted to calling certain pre-approved numbers only.
  • I think there are some prisoners where, provided it was properly managed and supervised, it would be efficient and help people to sort themselves out.
  • Our experience is that in-cell phones can have a positive impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation, not only encouraging the maintenance of family ties, but reducing the prevalence of illegal mobile phones.

We only have two questions. Where are the American prison leadership thought leaders on this approach? And why install wall phones, when you can deploy wireless prison payphones™ such as the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solutions™ immediately and with no capital cost?




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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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Dogs Out Fetch High Tech Tools In Prison

This article excerpted below from the CBC News discusses the efforts in Canadian Federal Prisons to detect and confiscate drugs smuggled to prisoners. Much like the efforts to stop contraband cell phones, the focus is almost entirely on new technology to identify and eliminate supply, with much less effort in addressing the demand.

Figures on seizures in federal institutions from the last fiscal year show traditional methods like security staff and sniffer dogs have been far more effective at finding illicit items than high-tech tools.

In the last fiscal year, there were 2,840 seizures of cocaine, marijuana, pills, home brew and a number of contraband drugs ranging from pain killers, steroids and anti-depressants.

The documents obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act also show only 26 seizures were detected by an ION scanner, 17 by X-ray and nine with a metal detector, while the bulk (1,892) were by security staff, frisk (239) or sniffer dogs (200). Another 109 seizures were made through strip searches.

The House of Commons public safety committee launched a comprehensive study on drugs in prison and recently released its report called ‘Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Penitentiaries: An Alarming Problem.’ It notes that drugs are often linked to gangs and organized crime, which can increase violence and destabilize the prison environment.

The report pointed out that smugglers are “quite ingenious” — and that various networks operate inside to intimidate and pressure family member visitors and ex-prisoners to bring in drugs in pens, food and clothing. Because institutions are often located in wooded areas, drugs can also come in via “throw-overs” stuffed in tennis balls, arrows or dead birds, projected by bow, slingshot or potato guns.

The report from the Conservative-dominated panel concludes there has been “significant progress,” but makes several recommendations for improvement.

But a dissenting opinion from the NDP called the report “fundamentally flawed” for failing to accurately reflect the testimony. It accused Conservative committee members of misusing the study to pursue “narrow political goals” rather than evidence-based approach.

“The most starting example of the information missing from this report is the failure to note evidence that clearly demonstrated $122 million dollars of Conservative spending on interdiction tools and technology since 2008 has not led to any reduction in drug use in prisons,” it reads.

Speaking on Power & Politics, NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said the government’s investment on high-tech tools isn’t working — and that the money would be much better spent on rehabilitation programs.

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The Scandal Of Prison Phone Call Price Gouging

A recent article on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian discusses the impact of the high cost of telephone calls from U.S. prisons. This issue has become more and more prominent, culminating in the recent bipartisan letter to the FCC calling on the Federal Communications Commission to stop phone companies from charging inmates what they call unreasonable and predatory rates to make phone calls.

The Guardian article highlights the critical importance of telephone communication between prisoners and their loved ones. It is a key tool to reduce recidivism we support by offering a secure prison cell phone solution which enables more calls with more privacy while providing prisons a new source of funding to offset lower prison pay phone rates:

When a person is sent to prison, one of the most obvious and important ways to ensure a successful re-entry to society upon release to is maintain and strengthen familial bonds during incarceration. Most families are willing and eager to stay connected with their loved ones. Unfortunately, however, there are many barriers in place to prevent them from doing so, not least of which are the prohibitively expensive and sometimes downright exploitative costs.

One woman I spoke to (I’ll call her Jennifer) described the difficulty of staying in touch with her brother, who has spent the past 10 years in prison.

“After 10 years, my brother was finally transferred to a location where it’s only half a day’s drive (550 miles) to visit. One has to make an appointment up to three weeks in advance to be able to visit; the hotel rates in the area are double anywhere else; and the emotional and financial costs to get there are great because families are made to share the cost of punishment in very literal ways.”

Jennifer outlined some of those “very literal ways”, such as the $70-100 on gasoline per trip, the $90 per person for a hotel room, the $50-100 for food in the visiting room. Besides, she pays $40 to maintain a landline she wouldn’t otherwise have in order to be able to receive the one 3-5min collect call her brother is allotted each month, plus up to $20 for the cost of the call itself. That comes to around $400 for one five-hour visit and one five-minute phone call. Hardly what you’d call “meaningful contact”. But it is nonetheless necessary.

At least in Jennifer’s case, she and her husband are fortunate enough to be able to absorb these costs. That, however, is not the case for many families who cite similar experience. Most prisoners are housed in facilities located between 100 and 500 miles from their homes; some are housed more than 500 miles away. That makes regular contact visits impossible to many people – and means that phone contact is all the more crucial.

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Reduced Prison Phone Rates Pave the Road to Rehabilitation

This is a great article discussing the value and need for more communication between prison detainees in order to reduce recidivism. As the article states, “Phone calls can mean the difference between maintaining relationships that make leading a healthy life outside of prison or falling into a cycle of moving in and out of prison.” High cost is part of the reason for the epidemic of contraband cell phones being smuggled into prisons everywhere.

There are multiple reasons why families and prisoners are unable to stay connected, including the reason discussed in this article – the high cost of phone calls from prisons and jails. However, there are other reasons that we feel can be addressed by the unique meshDETECT secure cell phone solution.

For instance, there are a limited number of payphones in each prison facility. As one wife of a prisoner in a federal prison told us, “The lines that an inmate has to wait in to make a call are at least an hour long (during prime phone time). Often, this breeds heightened emotions and “combative” type situations for inmates. For example: if one guy is taking too long on his call and someone makes a rude comment/remark it can easily start a fight. I hear about it often. My husband and I will usually cut our conversations short out of respect for other inmates behind him in line.” Not only does this limit the amount of time on the phone, and risk prisoner and correctional officer safety, the quality of the calls is impacted. Prisoners and their loved ones would like the privacy (not secrecy) to allow them to speak of health, personal and private matters when communicating.

Especially for those families that are unable to visit their incarcerated loved one due to distance or other circumstances, the prison payphone system is a lifeline for all involved. Our goal is to strengthen and enhance that lifeline while providing the prisons the security and control necessary to prevent improper use of the cell phone. In this way, we are reducing the demand for contraband cell phones and aiding prisoner rehabilitation.

Chris Duran understands the value of a phone call. Duran pays roughly $2.80 for a 15-minute phone call to talk with her partner who is incarcerated at a detention center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That same call in Colorado would be $5.00, the difference is attributed to the unregulated prison phone rate system. Phone companies will often include high commissions to state prisons within contracts in exchange for being the exclusive service provider. The rate of these commissions inflates the cost of phone calls for families in states that have failed to regulate this practice.

Many times expensive phone calls create a barrier between a prisoner and their family’s ability to stay connected and provide crucial support for loved ones. Luckily for Duran, she and her partner live in one of the eight reformed states that have ended the practice of commissions. New Mexico’s rates are relatively low; prisoners are charged roughly$.20 a minute to talk with loved ones. “The only way that our family stays together and stands out is that she has someone to call on the outs who loves her,” said Duran in a video recorded last year by the Media Literacy Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Really that’s the only way we have to stay in contact, through the PCS phone system.” For Duran’s partner and others behind bars, phone calls can mean the difference between maintaining relationships that make leading a healthy life outside of prison or falling into a cycle of moving in and out of prison.

Research suggests that prisoners who maintain contact with family or friends fare better upon release than those who do not maintain contact. A 2005 report by the Anne E. Casey Foundation found that families are a person’s first and last resort for housing and support when released from prison. The prison system considers a prisoner’s return home to their parents, children, partner or other family members to be the primary reentry plan upon release. It’s crucial that prisoners maintain connections with loved ones for support and to adequately prepare for reentry into their communities upon release. Whether or not a system ensures that prisoners are adequately prepared for reentry has an impact on whether or not they will return to the system.

The average U.S. recidivism rate lingers around 40 percent. According to a survey conducted by Pew and the Associate of State Correctional Administrators, 43 percent of released prisoners in 2004 were re-incarcerated within 3 years for new offenses or parole violations. Between 1973 and 2009, the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than 10 percent of adults behind bars.

Not only do high incarceration and recidivism rates affect families, they also affect taxpayers whose taxes fund a portion of state prison budgets, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Annual state and federal spending on corrections exploded by 305 percent, or 52 billion people, during the past two decades. During that same period, corrections spending doubled as a share of state funding and accounts for 1 in 14 general state fund dollars, according to the Pew Center on the States.

These astonishing trends incited various prison justice advocacy efforts and drew the attention of conservative lawmakers whose shrinking budgets have caused them to re-evaluate how correction dollars are spent. For example, South Carolina’s prison population tripled over 25 years and was projected to grow by more than 3,200 inmates by 2014. Conservative groups like Right on Crime, a partnership between the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Pat Nolan Prison Fellowship,worked on passing a prison reform package along with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The initiative ultimately gained the support of justice advocacy groups like the ACLU.

Prison reform advocates recognized that over half of the state’s population was incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. They found that the state could save $350 million by adjusting sentences for nonviolent offenses and targeting barriers prisoners face upon release. Within the past years, all 19 states that cut their imprisonment rates also experienced a decline in their crime rates, according to the Pew Center. It’s clear that a dollar invested in rehabilitation yields a greater return by keeping released prisoners out of the system and reducing the correction costs for states over time.

Congress also targeted this country’s high recidivism rate by passing the Second Chance Act in 2008. This piece of legislation authorizes government funds for nonprofits and agencies that would improve the conditions facing prisoners upon their release. These programs use resources for housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, continuing education and family programming. Reducing recidivism saves taxpayer dollars in the long run and reduces prison populations which would alleviate a prison system’s dependence on funds collected from commissions.

A policy reform that should be addressed by both states and the FCC is ensuring that prisoners can stay connected with the loved ones by keeping phone costs low. Other states can follow the lead of the eight reformed states and outlaw the practice of commissions. The FCC can also regulate interstate phone rates which would lower the costs for families, enabling them to stay better connected. “Throughout the time I was in the system I had a really strong support system with my family,” said Duran. “The only way I could stay in contact with my family was through the phone.” She was released in 2002 and has been able to stay out of the detention system.

Author: Leticia Miranda, Clarissa Ramon

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Phones In Cells May Help Prisoner Rehabilitation

prison-wall-phoneAs we have written before, a trial in a British jail has shown that in-cell telephones reduce contraband cell phone smuggling and recidivism. Now a jail in New Zealand will be installing wall phones in each of the cells of a new prison along with an advanced custodial management system.

As this article states, the trial in Britain showed “significant improvements in prison security, including a marked reduction in attempts to smuggle mobile phones into the establishment. And prisoners could make phone calls in more decent conditions, and the frequency and quality of contact with their families increased”

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.

Life on the inside looks comfortable at Mount Eden Corrections Facility, with each cell having a concrete bed, a reading light, shower and toilet and one day, prisoners may even have their own phones.

“If they have phone in their own cells, they can make the calls at a time which suits them which is great,” says Victoria University criminology professor John Pratt.

Shared payphones are the only sanctioned form of communication at present, and fights over access to them are common.

Mount Eden is operated by Serco, which has installed landlines in cells in the UK with positive results.

“Significant improvements in prison security, including a marked reduction in attempts to smuggle mobile phones into the establishment”

“And prisoners could make phone calls in more decent conditions, and the frequency and quality of contact with their families increased,” the company says in a statement.

Serco’s Mount Eden boss agreed to talk to 3 News about how such a scheme would be rolled out here, until Serco Australia stepped in and cancelled the interview, saying there are no immediate plans for phones in cells here.

Serco’s New Zealand boss is the Government, and Corrections Minister Judith Collins isn’t ruling it out.

“Obviously I’d want any, any phone lines to be scrupulously monitored, that’s really important, public safety is to come first and I’d expect to see some very compelling evidence that it assisted rehabilitation before I even think about it,” she says.

Rita Croskery’s son Michael was beaten to death 10 years ago. She says phones in cells would make prison life even more attractive.

“Prisoners are probably better off in prison than have been as people outside. They’ve got all the home comforts, nice warm beds, three meals a day,” she says.

Criminologist John Pratt disagrees.

“The more you can humanise the prisons, the better that is for rehabilitation of the prisoners, which is surely what prison should be all about,” says the professor.

An issue which will polarise public opinion and could sway any decision.


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CDCR Secretary Matt Cate On Contraband Cell Phones

CorrectionsOne has published an interview with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary, Matt Cate. Cate oversees 33 adult prisons and four juvenile facilities throughout California, with a budget of nearly 10 billion dollars. Right now, CDCR has approximately 160,000 inmates, 105,000 parolees, and 1,100 juvenile offenders (including in and out-of-state housing).

As part of that interview, he discusses the problem of smuggled cell phones in California prisons. Cate is quoted as stating, “There’s a pretty strong lobby of folks who argue that cellphones should be allowed because inmates use them to contact family and that encourages family unification, but with so many instances of violence against staff and civilians on the outside it just gets really frustrating that people don’t recognize it yet.”

Cellphones can in fact be provided to meet that legitimate need. They just have to be cellphones that provide the same level of security, control and monitoring that is available with traditional prison telecommunications systems. The meshDETECT secure cell phone solution offers those benefits and more.

Here is the relevant excerpt from that interview:

C1: You have a huge cellphone contraband problem in your prison system. As of October 1st of this year, you confiscated 11,400 of them, which breaks last year’s record with three months still to collect more! Are you shocked at these numbers?

MC: I’m not shocked. I’ve seen the numbers go up since 2006. I am troubled and concerned about it. It’s obviously a high-tech state and we’re usually ahead of the curve on those kinds of issues. That can be good and bad.

C1: How are inmates getting them?

MC: A number of different ways. They’re thrown over the fence, through visitors, and even staff in some circumstances.

C1: I have read that prison staff in California aren’t searched, so it’s easy to smuggle cellphones in.

: We search anything they bring in, like lunch boxes and those kinds of things. We don’t have airport style security for our staff and the governor has issued an executive order to do some additional work to find out if we can implement that in California. One problem is our prisons are so large, we have 500 staff in a shift change, and that’s a lot of equipment to get through the door in a short period of time. We have to figure out a way to reduce the incidents.

C1: What makes you angry about the crimes prisoners have been able to commit from inside because they’re able to communicate, unmonitored, to the outside with a cellphone?

MC: Part of my anger is that there hasn’t been a lot of recognition as to the dangers. There’s a pretty strong lobby of folks who argue that cellphones should be allowed because inmates use them to contact family and that encourages family unification, but with so many instances of violence against staff and civilians on the outside it just gets really frustrating that people don’t recognize it yet. Just recently the governor made smuggling a cellphone into a prison a criminal act in California.

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Program Fails to Stem Flow of Cell Phones Into Prisons

This article discusses the ineffectiveness of a two year formal program to stop contraband prison cell phones.

A two-year operation to intercept cell phones being smuggled into state prisons by employees has produced modest results and done little to stem the flow of contraband devices to inmates, according to state data.

Since 2009, authorities have seized 432 unauthorized cell phones from employees in random searches at adult prisons across the state.

It’s unclear how many of those devices were intended for the lucrative black market, said Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“Some people just forget to leave their personal cell phones at home,” she said.

The phones confiscated during “Operation Disconnect” represent just a fraction of the total number of cell phones circulating among inmates.

Last year, more than 10,000 devices were seized from inmates or found abandoned in cells, common areas and on prison yards. Authorities believe the actual number of phones being used by inmates is much higher.

In the prison black market cell phones can fetch prices of $1,000 or more.

While some inmates use the phones to communicate with friends and family, there are documented cases of prisoners using the devices to facilitate crimes and harass crime victims and witnesses.

The problem gained notoriety over the past year when authorities twice discovered contraband cell phones being used by convicted serial killer Charles Manson.

Under “Operation Disconnect” prisons are required to conduct monthly random checks on staff as they enter state facilities.

However, the searches usually do not cover all facility entrances and do not stretch to more than one work shift. Unlike some other states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, California does not routinely search prison employees on their way into work.

In contrast, all visitors are required to pass through metal detectors before they enter state prisons. It remains unclear whether visitors contribute significantly to the cell phone black market since the department of corrections does not collect data on the number of devices confiscated from non-employees.

Corrections officials say the results from “” support the department’s view that there is no single source for illicit cell phones.

“They (contraband phones) come in through many ways – staff, vendors, contractors, packages, visitors, outside work crews,” Thornton said. “We have found them in the garbage, in cereal boxes, in hollowed out Bibles, in shoes, in footballs, in body cavities, in a can of food.”

Prison officials expressed some disappointment but said they never expected the operation would wipe out the black market in cell phones.

“It’s a piece of what we’re trying to do,” said Richard Subia, a corrections deputy director.

Subia said he would like to see the state establish “airport-style screening” at every adult prison but “fiscally we can’t do that.”

However, prison officials are planning to invest millions in technology they hope will block calls from unauthorized cell phones.

“So even if the phones get into the prisons, they can’t be used,” Subia said. “They would be worthless.”


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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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