Tag Archives: smuggling

Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs

wireless prison payphone 225x300 Wireless Prison Payphone™ BriefsHere is the latest summary of recent news articles regarding contraband cell phones in prisons around the world. I am calling this round up of articles, “Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs” because this is essentially what smuggled mobile phones in jails have become – a substitute for the current wall mounted prison payphones.

Alabama Inmates With Illegal Cell Phone Active On Facebook: “Cell phones are against the law, that’s a new bill that just passed last year, making the possession, or the introduction of a cell phone into a prison setting a class C felony,” Corbett explains, though he still is not surprised by the discovery.

“Last year we confiscated more than 5,000 cell phones statewide.” The Department also has a policy against inmates using social networks. It’s clearly posted on the DOC’s website that such sites “are a security violation and will be shut down.” (Source)

Cat Caught Smuggling Saw, Cell Phone, Into Prison: The cat’s out of the bag, and that means prisoners at a prison in northeast Brazil will no longer have easy access to cell phones and saws.

Upon inspection, officials noticed that the feline was wrapped with tape. Underneath that tape was a battery of items including a saw, cell phone, drills, an earphone, memory card, batteries, and a phone charger. (Source)

Fourth Circuit to Hear Dispute Over Cell Phone Contraband Conviction: Here’s the issue: Did Beason have “fair and sufficient notice” that his possession of a mobile phone opened him up to criminal liability? Beason’s attorneys, Brian Kornbrath and Kristen Leddy, who work for federal public defender offices in West Virginia, contend the old law is unconstitutional for its vagueness. A cell phone, the attorneys said, “has a legal purpose and productive uses, which can carry over to the prison environment.”

“The vast majority of cell phone possession cases in federal prisons have been resolved through administrative sanctions within prisons, not in federal courts,” Beason’s lawyers said in a brief in the Fourth Circuit. “Beason was not given sufficient notice that his possession of a cell phone would subject him to federal criminal penalties.” (Source)

How Cell Phones Make Prison Drug Dealing Easy: Despite a lack of resources and an isolated consumer base, US correctional facilities host a thriving drugs market. But the limitations and monitoring imposed on the use of prison phones are an obstacle. “You can’t set up nothing on the regular prison phones because they are monitored,” one prisoner tells The Fix. “They record everything and when you are trying to make a move, you don’t want no one eavesdropping on your conversations so that they can make a bust or put the brakes on.” The solution isn’t hard to imagine: “With cell phones it is easy. No one is listening and you can talk freely. Once you got a cell phone, anything is possible.”

Of course, cell phones retail at a premium behind bars: Prisoners will pay up to $1,500 for one. But they’re not that difficult to find. “If you have money you can get a phone easy; you can get an iPhone with Internet access or whatever,” the prisoner says. (Source)

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Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs

051110top 300x208 Wireless Prison Payphone™ BriefsHere is a summary of recent news articles regarding contraband cell phones in prisons around the world. I am calling this round up of articles, “Wireless Prison Payphone™ Briefs” because this is essentially what smuggled mobile phones in jails have become – a substitute for the current wall mounted prison payphones.

Mobile phone jamming technology set for Scotland’s prisons:
Mobile phone blockers, costing up to £1 million per prison, are being planned to stop inmates continuing to run criminal operations from behind bars.

Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Whitelock, head of intelligence group at Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement, said: “We have established a national prison intelligence unit which involves close collaboration with the SPS and the eight police forces, and one of the key strands of work is to tackle the use of mobile phones in prison.”

However, the Mobile Broadband Group, which represents providers, has raised concerns. “The interference equipment that will be allowed within prisons as a result of this legislation has the potential to cause harmful interference to the customers of the mobile operators legitimately using their mobile devices in the vicinity,” it said.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont added: “Everyone agrees that prisoners should not be able to access mobile phones or the internet outwith times monitored and agreed by the Scottish Prison Service. But the way to do this is to clamp down on smuggling. (Source)

Low-tech vs. high tech to stop cell phones in prison: California prison officials are trying a new tack to stop cell phone use by inmates. They are trying to block cell phone signals, but the technology has failed when used in other states. Every year, thousands of cell phones are confiscated in California prisons.

Inmates use them for various and nefarious reasons – ordering hits and managing gang activity from the inside out. How the phones get in is just as varied and shadowy. Evidence and testimony from officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) show that staff members smuggle in phones for a lucrative profit.

Yet, corrections officers are not searched when they show up for work. Some reports say it would violate their contract, others say the state doesn’t want to pay for the shift time resulting from searches. What is the best way to stop cell phones in prisons? Why aren’t corrections officers searched? (Source)

Welcome to Costa del Jail! Facebook boasts of thugs and burglars serving time: Stripped to the waist and grinning from ear to ear, they look like a group of young friends posing for a holiday snap.

Actually these eight men are prison inmates parading for the camera – and they flouted a ban on mobile phones to upload the results to Facebook.

As well as dressing in their shorts, they poured scorn on the justice system by likening their prison sentences to a holiday in Spain. (Source)

Prison video visits threaten to put profit before public safety: Virtual visiting has become the latest craze in prisons, with at least 20 states now having some kind of video conferencing system in place. As most prisoners tend to get housed in facilities at least 100 – and often up to 500 – miles from home, frequent visits are impossible for families; so video calls at least offer the opportunity for some virtual face time.

Unfortunately, however, what could be a positive additional means for prisoners and their families to stay in touch is in danger of becoming any thing but a blessing. Some jurisdictions have already begun to eliminate contact visits entirely in favor of their virtual counterpart – and private corporations are already lining up to exploit this latest opportunity to fleece prisoners’ families. (Source)

Prisoner’s Facebook page ‘mocks jail system,’ union head says: A Facebook profile of a jailed, notorious street gang member highlights the smuggling problem in Quebec’s detention centres, according to the president of the province’s union of correctional officers.

Jonathan Jano Klor, sentenced to 14 years in prison in September for attempted murder, is listed on a public Facebook profile as a “young entrepreneur.”

The profile was created in July while Klor was in Montreal’s Riviere-des-Prairies Detention Centre awaiting sentencing. (Source)

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Phones In Cells May Help Prisoner Rehabilitation

usinmates460 300x180 Phones In Cells May Help Prisoner RehabilitationAs 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.

Source

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Investigation Into Cell Phones In Prison

contraband cell phone investigation 300x202 Investigation Into Cell Phones In PrisonA video about an investigation into the contraband cell phone problem at Northern State prison in New Jersey. According to the report, “A former Northern State inmate says they’re easy to get on the inside, but not cheap. $1,500, $1,000, $1,550, it all depends. The cost all depends on whether you want just a regular cell phone or a smart phone which gives the inmate access to the internet, to its maps, directories and search engines, and to email.”

It also reports that despite aggressive efforts to crackdown on cells phones, prison officials seem to be losing the battle as the number of smuggled phones keeps rising. Several former inmates said that more than half of the prisoners where they were locked up had phones.

As in many other state and county jails, efforts to reduce contraband cell phone smuggling have only focused on cell phone supply reduction and deterrence. We believe prison administrators must also focus on the demand for smuggled cell phones. This can be reduced by co-opting the non-criminal use of the phones, calls to keep in touch with family and loved ones, by offering the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution.

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Prison Cell Phone Jammer Problems

cell phone jammers 300x199 Prison Cell Phone Jammer ProblemsThis article discusses the problems of trying to jam contraband cell phones in prison. Besides the significant cost, there are technical issues and regulatory concerns to overcome. We suggest that prisons co-opt the prison cell phone problem by supplying secure cell phones. This will eliminate the value of contraband cell phones and increase revenue through commissions rather than add unaffordable prison cell phone jammer expense.

It’s not an insignificant problem. Mobile phones make their way into prisons by visitors smuggling them in — in whole or in part — or from prison employees who can make thousands of dollars per cell phone. Since cell phones aren’t explicitly considered contraband under federal law, there’s not much punishment for employees who sneak them in. California found more than 4,000 phones in 2009, while the feds found close to 2,000 in their prisons and work camps. In a recent case in Maryland, a number of employees were indicted after the DEA wiretapped a jailed gang leader, catching him complaining about having to settle for salmon and shrimp, instead of lobster, to go with his champagne.

There seems to be some agreement by parties on polar ends of the spectrum that something should be done, but none on what that should be. Activists like Melamed argue that creating a sort of dampening field that prevents all cell phone calls isn’t the blunt force approach it is portrayed as being, and that granular approaches like increasing the criminal penalties of bringing a cell phone into a prison, and targeting rogue cell signals, is too expensive for prisons and the state budgets that fund them.

Then there is the matter of legislative priorities: Even if health care reform is voted out of the Congress soon, after a year of sucking all the air out of the room, jobs and the economy (or a prolonged period of partisan gridlock) are on the horizon.

But Melamed is optimistic that the furor over moving Gitmo prisoners to federal prisons will prompt the House to pass the bill that the Senate approved last year — the idea that Al Qaeda-connected prisoners might be able to get phones and plan attacks on American soil will be enough, he thinks, to break the impasse.

As far as the well-heeled telecom industry is concerned, purgatory is just fine for this bill. What better fate is there for a technology they see as inelegant and ineffective, not to mention its track record of inadvertently blocking genuine networks?

“Radio waves do not recognize walls,” the Wireless Association’s Chris Guttman-McCabe says.

“To effectively jam a jail, you have to jam 100 percent of the space,” Guttman-McCabe says. “And the same prison employees that get you the phone will get you to the places where the signals work. To get 100 percent of the space, you will have to overjam.”Melamed tried unsuccessfully to get the 1934 Communication Act ban on jamming overturned in federal appeals court, but it was thrown out on the grounds that his objection should have been raised when the law was passed. The Wireless Association argues that changing the law to let the FCC approve jamming requests is a bad revision of a good law that has served the country well for decades.

It’s one of the few things that the Wireless Association and the public interest group Public Knowledge agree on. Last summer, the group asked Congress to kill the jamming proposal, saying that the technology wouldn’t work and ingenious prisoners would simply find a hack around the jamming. Instead, the group argued that prisons could cut down on the demand by replacing expensive collect calls that prisoners currently make, with a reasonably priced alternative.

The group also makes a slippery slope argument that once jammers are allowed in one location, they’ll show up in other spots. More than one school administrator has gotten riled up enough about student texting and using mobile devices that they’ve ordered and turned on cell phone jammers, without knowing that they were illegal.

Who among us hasn’t dreamed of being able to jam annoying cell conversations in restaurants and movie theaters? As a practical matter, you can buy illegal jammers via the internet and find DIY instructions online.

While Melamed says the penalties for using those kinds of jammers should be increased, he also thinks there’s a place for jammers — such as in the hands of the bomb squad or in a prison.

“With a well-engineered system, the signal stops at the wall,” Melamed said. “The poorly engineered stuff you can buy online is the stuff that should be banned.”

But the Wireless Association says jammers aren’t that precise, and have a history of going on the fritz and blocking devices way beyond prison walls. They also argue that for jammers to be effective, they have to go after frequencies that abut spectrum used for public safety and first responder radios, raising the possibility that they could be collateral damage. They support, instead, a bill from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would make it a felony, punishable by a year in prison, to provide a cell phone to an inmate.

But that situation simply points out, according to the Wireless Association’s Guttman-McCabe, why smarter solutions that monitor cell frequencies for rogue phones are a better solution. That technology can track phones by their registration numbers and then blacklist them.

Melamed acknowledges that those solutions are good tools, but says they are too expensive for cash-strapped prisons and just aren’t as effective.

He compares jammers to a using a bug bomb.

“With jamming, no more bugs come back,” Melamed said. “Cell phone controlling is like capturing one cockroach at a time.”

Source

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Allowing Phones in The Cells Might Be a Sound Call

prison cell phones 300x217 Allowing Phones in The Cells Might Be a Sound CallThis article from the LA Times summarizes the contraband cell phone challenges the California prison system is experiencing, with no solution seemingly in sight. However, the one positive and logical approach to this issue is suggested by Najee Ali – co-opt the problem by provisioning secure prison cell phone service, much like secure payphone service is currently offered.

When the nation’s most notorious mass murderer has a phone under the mattress in his cell, it’s hard to ignore the fact that security has broken down in California’s prison system.

And it’s logical to finger prison guards, especially after a state investigation discovered that a guard made $150,000 in one year smuggling phones to prison inmates, and another had 50 phones in his car in a prison parking lot, labeled with the names of convicts.

But cracking down on the most likely culprits isn’t as easy as it sounds. If we try to halt the flow of phones by making guards go through tedious and time-consuming security checks, like airport passengers, we have to pay them for the hours that will take, under an arcane labor deal called “walk time.”

That would cost the state millions of dollars, according to a story by Times reporter Jack Dolan on legislative efforts to approve criminal sanctions.

But abolishing “walk time” isn’t the solution. The provision is a staple of contracts in law enforcement — called “pre- and post-shift activities” in some, and “donning and doffing” in others.

It’s rooted in federal labor laws that compensate employees for work-related tasks they must do before or after their shifts — like travel through locked doors and across prison yards to posts in isolated gun towers.

For California prison guards, that translates to an extra hour of pay each week. Thirty years ago, “we cut a deal with the union,” said Craig Brown, who was part of the state’s negotiating team back then. “We said, ‘We’ll pay you for 12 minutes every day, whether you walk a minute or a half hour.’” It wasn’t considered a perk back then, he said, but a way to keep California on a budget.

Now Brown is on the other side, as chief lobbyist for the union of prison guards. And he bristles at the notion that guards are the bad guys in the cellphone scandal.

“They don’t just come in with employees, they come in by mail, they come in by visitors, they come in over the fence,” he said. “When an inmate wants a phone, somebody is going to supply him.”

Sure. But according to lawmakers, that “somebody” is most likely a prison employee.

Brown, and others before him, said phones in the hands of inmates jeopardize the safety of guards. Inmates have tried to organize institutional riots, escapes and prison crimes.

“The 90-plus percent of our good officers who want these things to run safely want to kick the ass of the guy that brings the cellphones in, because it endangers them,” Brown said. But they’re not willing to spend unpaid time lining up to be herded through metal detectors checking them for contraband phones.

Nor, it seems, are they willing to snitch on colleagues selling phones to convicts. “It’s a difficult individual decision,” he said. “Some officers would probably turn their head and pretend they didn’t see it. And some officers would try to solve the problem.

“Most of them just want to go to work, do their jobs and go home safe.”

Which is probably true for most of the inmates.

::

If I take Craig Brown’s word that the typical cellphone smuggler isn’t a corrections officer, then I might as well take Najee Ali’s word that the typical inmate with a contraband cellphone isn’t Charles Manson texting his followers.

Ali, a high-profile activist in Los Angeles’ black community, came home from prison last week. He spent two years behind bars for trying to bribe a witness in a criminal case involving a family member. He served his time at two prisons, Tehachapi and Avenal, in a medium-security dormitory “with three guards watching 1,000 inmates.”

And he kept in touch with folks back home on a BlackBerry he acquired behind bars, purchased for $500 from an inmate “who had a relationship with a guard.”

Inmate cellphones, in Ali’s view, are an “open secret” and a prison-tolerated management technique, he said. They help tamp down tensions among antsy convicts in overcrowded prisons. “If you have half the guys in a dorm with cellphones, that’s 500 guys who are pacified and not a threat to anyone’s safety.”

The idea of Manson with a flip phone fuels our outrage. “But for every person doing something illegal, there are hundreds of guys who just want to talk to their families and keep in touch with what’s going on back home,” he said. “…They’re talking to their mamas, their wives, looking at photos, checking on their Facebook pages.”

Guards look the other way at the black-market deals, he said. A state study showed that a prison employee can make $1,000 on a smuggled phone. “With pay cuts, furloughs, it’s tough for them,” Ali said. “The same guards who are bringing in the cellphones are the ones now acting all up in arms.

“At the end of the day, if the guards did not want us to have those phones, we would not have them,” Ali said. “They know it makes us less of a threat, to them and to each other.”

The worst-case scenarios are pretty bad: inmates on clandestine phones planning escapes, arranging drug deals, ordering hits on enemies.

::

But what Ali wanted to talk about was far less troubling: “You share your cellphone with other inmates, that eases a lot of tension throughout the building.

“It brought a sense of normalcy to my life. If we’re being real about this, it’s too far gone to stop it.”

Instead of metal detectors or high-tech scrambling systems, we ought to think about regulating prisoners’ access to cellphones, he said. Why not let some convicts have access — maybe minimum-security inmates or those with good prison behavior records?

“You could restrict the hours, like maybe they could only use them from 7 to 9. Or create a process for handing them out, like you check out a library book,” he said.

Ali’s idea could be a tool to promote order in our overcrowded prison system. And it might make honest men out of those prison guards who are drawn, like criminals, to a black market system.

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Inmate Cell Phone Service…Not Secrecy, Privacy

private prison cellphone call 300x200 Inmate Cell Phone Service...Not Secrecy, PrivacyThere was a brief posting on the social media site MetaFilter recently regarding the impact of the high cost of prison telecommunications services entitled “Don’t Phone Home From America’s Prisons.

Among the effects of the high cost of prison phone calls is the marked increase in contraband cell phone smuggling across the country.

The comments that followed the post primarily discussed individual experiences with prison phone systems. One comment in particular caught our eye:

“Jail landlines are crowded and not always available, or not always available safely to an inmate.

And then there’s the desire for privacy. Not secrecy, privacy. Would you want to talk about your personal medical stuff, or talk about your mom’s operation, or tell your sweetie how much you miss them….or talk about being queer or trans, or talk about racist violence around you or talk about prison rape…right out there when maybe the person who was threatening you could hear? Or the guards could hear so they could pick on you some more? Maybe withhold your meds?”

This is one of the ways in which our secure prison cell phone solution benefits the incarcerated. While there are many meshDETECT features that benefit the prison administration, such as cell phone call recording and monitoring, the ability to conduct a personal conversation in a private manner is an inmate benefit.

Why should we care if there are benefits of the service for the inmate? Because it has been shown that recidivism is reduced through frequent family contact. The ability to conduct a personal conversation with a modicum of privacy facilitates a higher quality interaction with family and friends.

This benefits society as a whole.

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Work Release Prisoners With Contraband Cell Phones

work release prisoners Work Release Prisoners With Contraband Cell PhonesThis article discusses the risk of work release prisoners smuggling contraband cell phones into prison when they return to the jail. It is widely known that many work release prisoners purchase cell phones and hide them outside the jail as well. They grab them when they leave in the morning and return them to their hiding spot on the way back to jail in the evening.

The meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution can be provided to work release prisoners for sanctioned use to eliminate this issue. Because all calls are able to be monitored and recorded, they can even be safely brought back into the prison at night. As the article states, “This is not about keeping inmates from talking to their families, it’s about preventing inmates from being able to attempt other crimes like escape.” With meshDETECT, prisoners can talk to their families and prison administrators don’t have to worry about unmonitored calls.

Best of all, with our custom GPS tracking feature, work release prisoners’ locations can be monitored at all times.

It’s all in a day served for inmates at Augusta’s Richmond County Correctional Institution (RCCI), working outside the prison. But, that means RCCI has its worked cut out to prevent inmates from bringing stuff back inside.

“We go to every length to make sure the inmates, when they go out to work and they come back, they don’t bring anything with them,” says Warden Evan Joseph.

More than 90 percent of RCCI’s 215 inmates work details, and working outside puts inmates in possible contact with members of the public, who could provide items to sneak into prison.

And, there’s one item RCCI works overtime to keep out…

“Cell phones…it’s not just unique here, it’s a statewide issue. Even the Feds have this problem,” says Warden Joseph.

“Anything that causes a problem, I think, would be a problem. Cell phones are…I don’t think they should have them,” says Catherine Perez, of Augusta, when asked about prisons keeping phones out.

“Because, who knows who they are calling on those cell phones, and what kind of plans they are making, and such,” says Coral Blandin, understanding the problem.

Warden Joseph won’t say exactly how many phones are found every year, but in December, 5 were confiscated at RCCI, and that’s with metal detectors and strip searches.

So, how do these phones get in?

“I can’t give you all the specifics, let’s just say certain cavities has been the primary means of getting it in,” Warden Joseph said.

“I wasn’t aware of that, I think, that’s disgusting,” said Donavon Cherry.

“That’s just horrible, that’s disgusting,” added Blandin.

It’s also a felony. Georgia state law says its one to five years for an inmate to have a cell phone and it’s also a felony for someone to provide a cell phone to an inmate.

Also, an RCCI inmate with a phone gets a date with Captain Lance Peebles. The Security Chief gets the call when an inmate back from detail sets off the metal detector.

“Because we know there’s something inside him, and he’s sitting naked, we know he’s got something in him. He has a choice…either work with me and give it to me then, or we send him to medical where it will be removed, or I’ll go get it and I got big hands,” says the Security Chief, holding up his large right hand.

Warden Joseph says this is not about keeping inmates from talking to their families, it’s about preventing inmates from being able to attempt other crimes like escape

“It’s a public safety issue, not only is the public at risk, but staff, other inmates,” said Joseph.

Monday, RCCI inmate Charles Moore got away from a work detail at a city cemetery. Warden Joseph says a cell phone played a role in the escape.

Moore was captured hundreds of miles away.

That’s why prison’s want them out…no ifs, ands, or buts.

Source

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Contraband Prison Cell Phones On The Rise In Canada

canada prison contraband 300x168 Contraband Prison Cell Phones On The Rise In CanadaThe challenge in reducing prison contraband, whether it is smuggled cell phones or drugs, is addressing not only the supply, but the demand for the contraband. As noted in the article below, “spending on substance abuse programs has fallen to $9 million from $11 million in the past two years. The demand is there, the need is there and we’re seeing much of that need being unmet.”

Just as there are substance abuse programs in prison to reduce the demand for drugs, there must be a demand-side strategy to address the desire for contraband cell phones. With meshDETECT, the prisoner desire for more communication with family is met in a secure and compliant manner.

Cocaine, alcohol, explosives, knives and handcuff keys are part of the haul at federal prisons as officials across the country struggle with a rising tide of contraband.

Between 2007 and 2011, the amounts of drugs, intoxicants, weapons and other unauthorized items confiscated by prison staff has steadily risen, in some cases by more than 170 per cent, according to documents obtained by the Star.

The number of seizures of intoxicants, for example — LSD, THC, amphetamines and steroids, to name just a few — rose to 1,779 in 2010-11, up from 1,295 three years earlier.

Similarly, the number of seizures of weapons, including razor blades, homemade knives, firearms, explosives and pipes, rose by 22 per cent to 900 over the same period.

Perhaps most striking is the surge in seizures of other unauthorized items, such as cellphones, tattoo-making materials, lock picks and rope, from 991 to 2,697.

What the numbers don’t say is whether the amount of contraband items smuggled into prisons is increasing or whether a recent push by the government to intercept these materials is paying off.

“I suspect that detection is getting better, so you do see an increase in seizures,” said Howard Sapers, Canada’s Correctional Investigator. “What we really don’t know is whether drug use inside prisons is up or down, whether the presence of weapons is greater or lesser than it used to be.”

In August 2008, the federal government pledged $122 million over five years in an effort to eliminate drugs from federal prisons. The funding went toward purchasing additional security equipment, such as drug ion scanners and X-ray machines, increasing the number of drug-detecting dog teams, and was intended to improve security intelligence both inside and outside prisons.

Among the goals, according to the government, are more successful rehabilitations and a safer system for guards and the country’s 14,000 federal inmates.

The Star also asked CSC for the number of employees disciplined for bringing contraband items into prison, but the agency said it did not have any such records. However, last September, Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, told a parliamentary committee that it had dismissed 12 staff members that year for smuggling contraband into prisons.

Inmates caught with contraband material face a variety of sanctions, depending on the nature and seriousness of the transgression. Disciplinary measures include warnings, loss of privileges, an order to make restitution, fines, performance of extra duties, segregation from other inmates and, in some cases, the laying of criminal charges.

NDP public safety critic Jasbir Sandhu notes that while seizures of drugs appear to be increasing, the percentage of offenders testing positive for illegal drugs in CSC’s own random urinalysis tests has remained steady at around seven per cent since 2007-08.

“They’re spending $122 million to stop drugs coming in, but that hasn’t happened because the urinalysis results haven’t changed,” Sandhu said. “The benefit to the taxpayer has been zero.”

Jason Godin, regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which represents 6,800 federal officers, says tracking down contraband has become increasingly challenging as inmates develop new and creative ways to smuggle items inside.

“We’ve seen everything from things inside stuffed animals, tennis balls and drugs tied onto arrows and shot into the yard with a crossbow,” Godin said.

He added that offender profiles have changed over the last 15 years, with a larger percentage of inmates more likely to be affiliated with gangs. The relationships developed with other gang members on the outside have resulted in greater complexity when it comes to smuggling contraband, he said.

While there is little debate over the need to have good detection of contraband materials, Sapers said he is alarmed by the government’s recent shift away from treatment programs in favour of beefed-up security measures.

“We’ve been encouraging the service to increase its programming and treatment capacity, and often these are linked to addiction and mental health,” Sapers said.

He noted that spending on substance abuse programs has fallen to $9 million from $11 million in the past two years.

“The demand is there, the need is there and we’re seeing much of that need being unmet.”

CSC could not provide the Star with budget expenditures for 2010-11 due to “temporary technical issues,” but a 2010 overview of the agency pegs total corrections expenditures 2008-09 at $2.28 billion, up nearly 40 per cent since 2004-05. The average cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated rose from $87,919 to $109,699.

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Prison Cell Phone As Commissary Item? Why Not?

cell phone in prison commissary 300x200 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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