Tag Archives: security

Prisons: Pay Now Or Pay Later

This is an interesting opinion piece on the importance of adequate state prison funding and the impact of insufficient financial resources on prison safety, correctional officer morale and prisoner recidivism.

As we have written before, prison administrators are constantly seeking new sources of prison funding and frequently it is prisoners and their families whom prisons turn to for new sources of revenue. Primarily through the imposition of fees and service charges.

The article mentions one of the drivers for additional funding is to be “better able to intercept contraband items like cell phones.” There is no doubt that the smuggled cell phone epidemic in correctional facilities around the country has introduced increased expense, officer risks, and heated debates about responsibilities, control capabilities, technology, and safety.

There is an opportunity however to turn this budget-busting problem into a source of new revenue by offering a secure prison cell phone solution that provides inmates a sanctioned, controlled cell phone service in place of a smuggled cell phone.

Some attempts to get tough on prisoners have turned out to be tougher on prison guards and staff.

And some measures to save money have ended up costing more.

The Legislature should recognize that protecting the state from criminals is one of its core functions — and should be funded adequately.

Stanley Burtt, retired warden of Lieber Correctional Facility, lays the blame for problems on politicians. In a recent letter to the editor, he asserted that Lieber’s staff does a good job in very difficult circumstances.

Even still, problems arise. Last month, two correctional officers standing watch over 229 of the state’s most dangerous offenders were injured after inmates set off a five-hour riot.

With more money to pay for more staff, and to pay staff more, Lieber would be a safer place, even with its population of hardened prisoners.

Not only would they be better able to intercept contraband items like cell phones and drugs thrown over the fence to prisoners, they would be better able to slow down the high rate of turnover among the staff.

In a later interview, Mr. Burtt told us that the people who work at prisons where the worst criminals are kept are paid only slightly more than those who work at lower security facilities. The working conditions at Lieber are sometimes akin to “open warfare,” he says.

So there is little incentive to stay at Lieber if there is an option to work at other institutions like McDougall Correctional Institute in Ridgeville, which Mr. Burtt describes as more like a day camp.

Budget cuts can mean that prison guards work virtually in isolation. That increases risk and eliminates the esprit de corps that Mr. Burtt says is needed to help staff members cope with their often unpleasant jobs. It’s another disincentive to stay on the job.

And when the budget gets tight, prison schools are often targeted. Another mistake. Inmates who are in school — many learning the most basic skills like reading — are less likely to be a problem that those who have nothing to do.

The legislative decision to take away weight training from prisoners also has backfired, Mr. Burtt says. Inmates need a way to expend energy. Weights provided that release.

Funding also should be adequate to maintain programs to rehabilitate prisoners who will eventually return to the community and live.

To do otherwise is to encourage recidivism.

Mr. Burtt believes that more resources for mental health treatment would ease the tensions. A significant percentage of prisoners have severe psychiatric problems.

Better funding for prisons isn’t a popular platform for a politician.

Prisoners don’t vote. And taxpayers resent having to spend a dime to keep murderers, rapists and thieves fed and sheltered.

But failing to fund prisons adequately shouldn’t be an option. Security is essential to keeping the bad guys in jail — and keeping prison staff members safe.

Both should be a priority for lawmakers in their budget deliberations this year.


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Prison Cell Phone As Commissary Item? Why Not?

This article about contraband cell phones in the West Virginia prison system begins, “The latest iPhone won’t be among the items in any West Virginia prison’s commissary. In fact, no cellphones will be there.”

What’s interesting is that there really is no reason why cell phones shouldn’t be a commissary item. As long as it a secure prison cell phone with all the controls and security offered by the traditional prison wall phones now used in correctional facilities large and small across the country. Is there something inherently more secure about the fact that a jail phone is hung on a wall? In fact, these prison payphones have security issues all their own because they require prisoner movement in order to be accessed.

The usual justification for banning contraband cell phones is that prisoners use them to harass people, however a spokesman for the FBOP states in the article, “If an inmate gets a smartphone or a cellphone inside the institution, usually they won’t be using the phone to harass victims or the community. They want to keep it as quiet as possible. By harassing someone, obviously, that person will go to the authorities and we’ll find (the phone).”

We agree that contraband cell phones should be banned for all the reasons usually given when this issue is discussed, but as long as a prison-approved cell phone has all the controls, security and forensic capabilities of a prison wall phone, why not offer it in the commissary? Easier and more frequent telephone access means more revenue for the prison and more connection to families for the prisoners.

The latest iPhone won’t be among the items in any West Virginia prison’s commissary.

In fact, no cellphones will be there.

It is illegal for West Virginia inmates — from those in local jails to federal lockup — to possess a cellphone. That means no texting, no snapping casual photos from the prison gym and no Angry Birds. Wardens also nix Internet access, although federal inmates have access to an email system they can use to message people who have approved the contact. But that doesn’t mean inmates don’t find ways around the warden’s rules. An inmate at FCI Morgantown will spend another three months behind bars for having a cellphone inside the Green Bag Road correctional facility.

Daniel Johnson, 21, pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited object and was sentenced before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Kaull earlier this month, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld.

The state Division of Corrections (DOC) seized 16 cellphones from inmates in 2011, officials said. The same year, 3,684 cellphones were confiscated in federal prisons across the country, according to news reports. Figures were not available on the number of cellphones seized at local federal correctional facilities, but, according to U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld’s office, nine federal inmates in West Virginia were charged with cellphone possession in 2011.

Any state inmate caught with a cellphone or other communication device can be convicted of a felony and made to serve one to five years in prison or, in the judge’s discretion, up to one year in jail, per state code.

Anyone who provides a cellphone to a state inmate can be convicted of a misdemeanor and made to serve up to one year in jail.

Smuggling a cellphone into a federal correctional facility or being a federal inmate in possession of a cellphone is punishable by up to one year in prison, according the U.S. Attorney’s office.

State Regional Jail Authority officials said they didn’t catch a single inmate with a cellphone last year.

Despite national news reports that inmates are using smartphones to access the Internet and harass their victims via social networking sites, state officials say they haven’t heard of any inmates doing that here.

Chris Burke, spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), said most inmates just want cellphones to communicate with the outside world without prison officials knowing what they’re talking about. Calls made from prison and jail phones are monitored.

“If an inmate gets a smartphone or a cellphone inside the institution, usually they won’t be using the phone to harass victims or the community,” Burke explained. “They want to keep it as quiet as possible. By harassing someone, obviously, that person will go to the authorities and we’ll find (the phone).”

Cellphone smuggling hasn’t become much of a problem in West Virginia’s jails and prisons because of poor cell service.

“The West Virginia Division of Corrections does not seize a lot of cellphones in comparison to states with more urban and suburban areas with greater cellular signal coverage,” a DOC statement said. “This may change in some areas of the state as cellular coverage improves. However, certain areas of the state in which we have correctional facilities are somewhat remote and others are located in areas which fall within federal ‘quiet zones’ and, in these areas, we would not anticipate any increases in the foreseeable future.”

Federal regulations restrict cellphone and radio signals in the area around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank to minimize interference with satellites, according to the observatory.

Inmates at regional jails and state prisons also have no Internet access. Federal inmates can only use an approved email system.

“It would do nothing but cause problems,” Regional Jail Authority Chief of Operation John Lopez said.


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Law To Prohibit Contraband Cell Phone Use Advances

An update on the progress of a proposed law in Michigan to add tougher penalties to the law prohibiting contraband cell phone use by prisoners. The article states, “Roesler said the main concern with inmates possessing a cellphone has more to do with security than the inmate being able to call out of the jail. With the cell phones now, they act as cameras and computers as a way to communicate and receive information. They can receive intelligence information and take pictures of corrections officers and witnesses. It could be a major security breach.”

Contraband cell phone use can be reduced by offering an alternative such as the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution. These phones have no cameras or internet access.

Two proposed bills — worked on by Muskegon County’s sheriff and state senator, and which would raise the penalties for possession and use of cellphones by inmates — is working its way through the Legislature.

The bills would amend current law to prohibit state prisoners and county jail inmates from possessing a cellphone and prohibit anyone from furnishing them with a cellphone.

Under the bills, violators of the ban would face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of $1,000 or both. Currently, inmates found in possession of cellphones face confiscation of the devices and losses of privileges.

The legislation currently is before the House Judiciary Committee. The state Senate passed the bills, Senate Bills No. 551 and No. 552, on votes of 34-3 in September, sending them to the House.

Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler and state Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, collaborated on the proposed legislation. Hansen is the primary sponsor of the bills.

Roesler said the main concern with inmates possessing a cellphone has more to do with security than the inmate being able to call out of the jail.

“With the cell phones now, they act as cameras and computers as a way to communicate and receive information,” Roesler said. “They can receive intelligence information and take pictures of corrections officers and witnesses. It could be a major security breach.”

Hansen called cellphone use by inmates and prisoners “a real safety concern.”

“They could call witnesses outside the jail or prison, coordinate a guard’s movements,” Hansen said. “There could be some real danger.”

The language of the proposed legislation prohibits use by inmates and prisoners of all wireless communication devices.

In addition, the proposed legislation calls for cellphones and other devices confiscated as contraband to be donated to Cell Phones For Soldiers Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing deployed and returning troops cost-free methods to communicate with family while serving in the U.S. military.

Roesler said he was pleased to learn the bills passed the Senate and anticipated the potential benefits of the proposed changes to the law.

Currently, “an inmate bringing or possessing a cellphone in the jail would only have administrative sanctions, a loss of privileges, like TV or trustee status,” he said, pointing to the criminal charges proposed with the legislation being considered.

Hansen said he will push for the bills’ consideration by the state House.

“We’ll keep working on it because it’s common sense,” Hansen said. “What do you do if you’re in the sheriff’s position, because you don’t have any punishment.”


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Contraband Found Outside Prison

Contraband cell phones are a problem in Canada as well as the US. As this article describes, one method of getting the contraband into a prison is to throw it over the prison fence.

Staff at a federal prison in central Alberta have intercepted a package of illegal drugs and contraband cellphones intended for inmates inside.

Correctional officers at Bowden Institution, 40 kilometres south of Red Deer, found the contraband during a perimeter check about noon on Tuesday.

Fortunately for authorities – but unfortunately for who-ever threw the bundle over the perimeter fences – the package landed in an area off-limits to inmates.

“This particular bundle was similar to the size of a football and well taped up,” said Dan Spiller, assistant warden at Bowden.

Correctional Service of Canada officials estimated the hashish oil, crystal methamphetamine, heroin and cellphones hidden in the package would be worth more than $41,000 in the black market inside the medium-security prison.


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Jail Warders Face Heat For Phone Usage

This article highlights some of the challenges and issues associated with the use of wireless signal jammers to stop the use of contraband cell phones smuggled into a prison in India.

With a spate of murders and extortions being abetted from Puducherry Central Prison in India by criminals inside, the Jail authorities have woken up and have taken stringent measures.

A team of security personnel on special duty seized a dozen cellphones from the jail premises since Thursday.

Jail superintendent Jayakandan and nine Jail warders have been chargesheeted for the use of personal cellphones inside the prison premises, said IG Prisons, Pankaj Kumar Jha. The prison rules state that no one is permitted to use cellphones inside the premises, except a few senior officials.Despite the installation of three jammers inside the prison and x-ray baggage scanner at? the entrance, the use of cellphone in prison has gone uncontrolled.

Three prisoners were given an additional three months imprisonment for possessing cellphones inside the Central Prison Puducherry by Judicial Magistrate-I Puducherry District Court in August last, but even that has not deterred the inmates.

Usually, cellphones reach the prisoners when they are taken out to court or a hospital. Sometimes, cellphones are thrown into the prison complex from outside, sources said.

The three jammers installed in the prison are not enough to block the cellphone signals in the entire premises. As the second phase of construction of prison complex is to begin, more towers with jammers cannot be installed to cover entire area.Further, power failure also adds to the problems of the jail authorities as the jammers do not work during outages. However, on completion, towers at appropriate place could be erected to jam mobile signals in the entire prison area, said Jha.

The prison is also short of staff. Though 42 posts of Assistant Superintendent of Jails (ASJ), Warders, Principal warders have been filled up, 18 warders and five ASJs have gone on training, which is expected to get over in four months.


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Jail Visits Go Virtual

An interesting article about the use of video visitation in jail as a replacement for face-to-face visits. As in prisoner phone calls, the video visitation interaction is recorded. One of the benefits highlighted in the article is that it gives family members more time to visit. Visiting is now offered at the jail five days a week, not just the weekend. We believe giving prisoners secure cell phones will also expand the availability of family contact by providing more flexibility in when prison phone calls can take place.

For family and friends with a loved one behind bars that weekly jail house visit carries a lot of weight. But as cities and counties build new jails, video visits are replacing that face-to-face contact. They say it cuts down on labor and is safer. But inmates and their visitors often say something is missing with the new technology.

Modesta Lopez is dressed in silver high heels, a neat white blouse and black skirt to visit a video screen. The image of her boyfriend will be beamed from his cell block several hundred feet away. Lopez dressed up especially for him. She plans to do a turn for him before the video camera, but the full effect will surely be lost.

He’s been in jail for a few months. Until the new Cabarrus County jail was opened, Lopez was visiting her boyfriend at the old facility where visitation was face-to-face. It was a lot like in the movies. A plate of glass separated inmate and visitor with a phone to speak through.

“I was liking it because I was seeing his face more real. It’s not like watching him on a TV,” says Lopez.

But these video visits ease the burden on Sheriff’s offices. Hundreds of jails across the country have started using them, including ones in Iredell, Catawba and York counties. Mecklenburg County is not among them, at least yet. Video visitation is where the industry is headed because officials say it saves money on labor and logistics.

The system at Cabarrus County’s new jail cost about $500,000 dollars to install. So the Sheriff’s Office says financially it’s a wash. Chief Deputy Paul Hunt says it really comes down to security. Face-to-face visits often mean bringing inmates from one side of a jail to another.

“Whenever you move an inmate, that’s when you can have problems with somebody getting hurt, [if they] don’t want to go there. And you end up having a scuffle with somebody,” says Hunt.

Hunt also says video visits mean there’s less of a chance a family or friend will pass an inmate some kind of contraband.

Some visitors see advantages too. Barry Cook regularly checks in on his son. He prefers the new system because it gives him more time to visit.

“Before they had to process you and take a lot of information. It took you 45 minutes to get up there and see him for 15 minutes,” says Cook.

Cook always felt rushed visiting. Now since there’s no processing time he and his son have a lot more time to chat. Plus, visiting is now offered at the Cabarrus County jail five days a week, not just the weekend.

That brings up another advantage. Under the old face-to-face system, visitors would come to the jail all at once. It was noisy and sometimes inmates were double-booked, which could lead to some uncomfortable situations like girlfriends meeting their competition.

“It made me mad and I sat there through the visit and I left. And then when he called me I was like, “Yo, what was that?” recounts Gina Lattimore.

Her boyfriend’s in jail. At least under the old face-to-face system, she knew when other women would show up to see him. With video visits he could be two-timing her and she wouldn’t know since visitors have to sign up online. And that’s another thing that bothers her since she doesn’t have access to a computer.

Visitors to the jail sit at a table with short partitions for privacy. One man holds up a cell phone to the video screen to show some family pictures. A woman primps a bit, sitting on two chairs so the camera captures her whole face, not just the top half.

“No cursing. If you see that someone is talking loud, let us know,” a sheriff’s deputy instructs the group.

The deputy also monitors and records the video visits. Jails often record phone calls inmates make, but not visits made in person. Offering visits only by video makes it easier to record those too, which also increases the likelihood they’ll end up as evidence in a trial as they did with Casey Anthony in Florida.

Chief Deputy Paul Hunt says so far in Cabarrus County no recordings have been turned over to lawyers. He says they’re used mainly to alert police of something suspicious.

Still, the thought of her visits being recorded makes Modesta Lopez with the silver high heels uneasy.

“You cannot say stuff you’d like to tell him sometimes. But I do what I have to do,” says Lopez.

She holds back a bit and keeps to subjects like church and work. And even though, she gets more time this way, she still prefers talking to him face-to-face.


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Terror Prisoners Tried to Smuggle Cell Phones in Books

Relatives who came to visit security prisoners at Sheeta Prison in northern Israel tried to smuggle 12 cell phones into the jail for the prisoners’ use. Five families were involved in the smuggling attempt, which was foiled by the Israeli Prisons Authority.

Voice of Israel government-run radio reported that the phones were hidden inside six large books. The books aroused the jailors’ suspicion and were found to contain newfangled phones.

The families’ visiting rights were suspended after the incident and the relatives who tried to smuggle in the phones were transferred to police for questioning. The prisoners involved will face disciplinary trials.

The Prime Minister announced recently that terrorist prisoners’ privileges would be sharply curtailed. However, IPS officers told a Knesset committee that by and large, the prison conditions remains unchanged.


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Federal Inmates Eligible To Use Email

This article describes how Federal prison inmates can now use email. It’s a cumbersome process, but it demonstrates how modern communications technology and tools are slowly being adapted for the unique requirements of the corrections marketplace. Eventually, the meshDETECT secure cell phone service will offer secure, controlled email along with phone calls.

The Facebook page reads: “We are inmates in the federal system who are looking for someone to talk to. We have e-mail capability so we may chat.”

A few caveats: “You must be educated and (non-ghetto) please.” Oh, and only women need reply.

Welcome to 21st century prison life, a world where those on the inside can communicate with those on the outside via cyberspace.

As of this month, all 116 federal prisons in the U.S. provide email access to qualifying inmates who pay 5 cents per minute to use the computer.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons reads all the emails, and recipients have to agree to be contacted.

Internet access, though, remains off-limits.

Some states are following suit. Michigan uses a program called JPay, which lets outsiders email inmates. But prisoners cannot reply electronically.

“We still have to ensure facility security,” said John Cordell, a Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman, pointing out that full-scale email “is not viable for us.”

Maybe in the future, he said. But for now, snail mail, pay phones and personal visits will have to do.

Prisoners have been trying to find ways to communicate with the outside world for years, even secreting smartphones into footballs tossed over security fences.

But now, federal prisons have another high-tech – and sanctioned – option to stay in touch.

This spring, the Federal Bureau of Prisons officially made email available in all 116 of its prisons, with nearly 122,300 inmates – more than half the federal prison population – already qualifying for the program. The idea is to help inmates keep ties with the community and family members by letting them talk online.

Of course, inmates trying to communicate with the outside world isn’t new. Cellphones and smartphones are getting smuggled inside by the thousands.

But prison officials say e-mail offers a link that can be easily monitored. The messages going in and out are screened. The recipients are pre-approved, and only those who agree to be emailed can get messages.

“The Bureau of Prisons has taken a lot of pains to make sure that any security concerns are taken care of. If the public is scared that some inmate is going to be stalking in cyberspace, that is not going to happen,” said Elizabeth Kelley, co-chairwoman of the Corrections Committee for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Based on recent Internet activity, inmates are doing plenty of cybertalking.

Strict policy

In state and federal prisons nationwide, cellphones and smartphones are regularly smuggled in – in some cases getting tossed over fences – leaving the corrections community scrambling to stay on top of the problem.

Inmates are texting, tweeting and posting on Facebook, thumbing their noses at rules banning Internet use.

MDOC spokesman John Cordell said Michigan hasn’t yet decided to jump on the prison email bandwagon. In addition to the federal prison system, a handful of states are allowing inmates to e-mail family, friends and their lawyers.

“Michigan has a pretty strict Internet-based policy. There are no network connections inside the prison setting that a prisoner could utilize,” said Cordell, noting any kind of Internet use could jeopardize inmate and public security, even tightly monitored email.

Several benefits

Instead, Michigan inmates communicate using the pay phone, written letters or actual visits at the prison, he said.

There’s also JPay, a system that allows outsiders to send an email to the prison; a printed copy is delivered to the inmate. But the prisoner can’t respond via email.

“It’s one of the things that ultimately we may consider,” Cordell said of full-scale e-mail. “But right now, it’s not something that’s viable for us.”

That’s too bad, say prisoner advocates and criminal defense lawyers.

They say prison email has several benefits: it’s easier to monitor and read than regular mail, it’s cheaper than pay phones for inmates, and it helps prepare inmates for re-entry by keeping them in touch with the outside world.

“That’s a lot more reasonable than them using the phones,” said criminal defense attorney Anthony Chambers, who has several clients in federal prison and views prison e-mail as “extremely helpful.”


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Prisons Can’t Stop Cell Phones From Reaching Cell Walls

A 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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