Tag Archives: Wireless

New Technologies In Prison

FCC-workshop-meshDETECTToday I participated in the FCC’s Workshop on Inmate Calling Services Reform on the New Technologies panel to consider new and emerging forms of communications in correctional settings beyond the traditional wireline telephone call. Below is the text of my opening statement:

As this workshop is focused on inmate calling services and this panel is specifically targeted to new technologies, I would like to focus my opening comments on a new solution to the problem of contraband cell phones in prison that also provides enhanced telephone access to detainees and their families.

The very first payphone was installed in a Hartford, Connecticut bank in 1889; the first payphone in a jail was probably installed not too long after. Ironically, this same device, admittedly with very sophisticated back end controls, is still being used in prisons and jails around the world 125 years later; yet when is the last time you personally used a payphone? The reason for this? Cell phones.

As many of you maybe aware, contraband cell phones are a significant issue in prisons and jails across the county, and indeed the world. Over 15,000 were confiscated in California alone in 2012. In fact, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens has stated that, “Illegal cell-phone use in Georgia prisons has developed to “epidemic” proportions and is now the system’s greatest safety threat.”

There is no doubt that the use of unrestricted cell phones in prison is a serious security risk in that some of the use is for criminal activity, however it has been shown that the vast majority of contraband cell phone use is by detainees seeking more frequent and affordable interaction with family and loved ones. Interaction that is now severely restricted by the limited number and shared use of prison payphones.

We believe that contraband cell phones are a problem of both supply and demand. Due to the demand for cell phones in prison, there is an active and highly lucrative pipeline of supply. Most prison administrations have focused on restricting the supply of contraband cell phones through detection, jamming and search. However, like the problem of drug smuggling, without addressing the demand for contraband, the problem will never be solved.

We have developed a solution, called meshDETECT, which helps to reduce the demand for contraband cell phones by siphoning off the legitimate desire for more frequent telephone access between detainees and their loved ones. meshDETECT is a secure prison cell phone solution that gives detainees highly customized cell phones with all the security and control features of prison payphones. This allows those detainees whose only desire is for legitimate, non-criminal contact with family to use wireless technology safely and securely.

By siphoning off and co-opting this non-criminal wireless usage, we significantly reduce the overall demand for contraband cell phones and therefore the profitability for those smuggling these devices. Less financial reward for cell phone smugglers changes the risk/reward equation and makes it much less appealing given the high personal and professional risk for those caught smuggling.

In addition to reducing the demand for, and therefore the supply of, contraband cell phones, enhanced access to telecommunications services has the proven, significant, additional benefits of reducing recidivism, improving detainee behavior and increasing officer safety.

Eventually all technology trends breach the prison walls. In fact, the Department of Justice recently mandated that Federal Bureau of Prison Halfway House detainees be given controlled access to cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family. With meshDETECT, all deserving detainees can benefit from wireless technology, safely and securely.

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Why The Prison Payphone Industry Is Ripe For Disruptive Innovation

meshDETECT-disruptive-innovationA disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.

Characteristics of a Disruptive Innovation:

  • Its performance attributes meet the unfulfilled needs of an emerging market’s customers. These same attributes are not initially valued by the mainstream market, which instead value different performance attributes and initially see the innovation as substandard.
  • Emerging market adoption enables the innovation to increase its performance and to begin overlapping with the performance expectations of the mainstream market.
  • Awareness of the innovation increases as the innovation develops, influencing change in the mainstream market’s perception of what it values.
  • The change in the mainstream market’s perception of what it values enables the innovation to disrupt and replace the existing offerings in the mainstream market.

In the prison payphone industry, it is clear that the high call prices and low availability of the traditional wall phones in prisons and jails are not meeting the communication desires of detainees and their families. As a result, the demand for contraband cell phones has soared. Prison administrators, and the prison payphone companies themselves, have focused on strategies to reduce the supply of smuggled mobile phones through the deployment of expensive managed access systems, cell phone detection technologies and specially trained K9s.

However, none of these strategies address the fundamental demand (and associated corruption of guards and staff supplying the phones) of detainees seeking lower cost and more frequent access to telephone services.

In mature industries, such as the prison payphone industry, the risk for incumbents is the danger of dematuring. Dematuring happens when a stable industry with known competitors begins to be dynamic and new again.  If an industry is dematuring, the chances of getting hit with a disruptive innovation are much greater and  established players lose their hegemony while value in the industry can move to entirely new players or parts of the value chain.

An industry is in danger of dematuring if two or more of the following four things happen simultaneously:

  1. customer’s core requirements change;
  2. the core technologies used to produce the product or service change;
  3. the number of large competitors interested in the same market is on the rise;
  4. significant regulation, deregulation, or re-regulation is coming down the pike.

In the prison payphone industry we see commissary companies such as Keefe entering the market as well as new initiatives by the FCC and state regulatory commissions to lower the high cost of prison phone calls.

We are also seeing the adoption of mobility technologies such as RFID, GPS and handheld devices. The very first payphone was installed in a bank in 1889 (and probably in a jail not too long after). Yet the inmate communications service providers such as Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies are still using this basic device (admittedly with very sophisticated back-end controls) over 120 years later!

There is no denying the pervasive and rapid adoption of wireless technologies in the the consumer market has begun to seep into prisons and jails. Add to this the desire of prison administrators to deploy on-line forms, books, MP3 players and commissary access and one quickly comes to the realization that voice communications can be an important component of this move to individualized, utilitarian and portable access devices to educate, rehabilitate and manage detainees.

With meshDETECT, we are leading the charge to disrupt the prison payphone industry by providing a secure prison cell phone solution that provides the controls and security required by prison administrators while offering enhanced communications opportunities to detainees and their families thereby reducing recidivism and the demand for contraband cell phones.


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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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Wireless Prison Cell Phone Jamming Blocks Neighbors’ Service

The use of wireless jammers to block contraband prison cell phones is one of the many supply-side initiatives being investigated and deployed in prisons around the world.

As shown by these news items, this frequently results in the loss of cellular service for the homes and businesses located near the prisons. This calls into question the viability of using this technology to eliminate the use of contraband cell phones.

Recently, in response to reports of a growing number of consumers using cell phone jamming devices to create “quiet zones” on buses and trains, the FCC issued a stern Enforcement Advisory cautioning consumers and electronics retailers that it is against the law to use a cell phone or GPS jammer “or any other type of device that blocks, jams or interferes with authorized communications, as well as to import, advertise, sell, or ship such a device.”

“Jammers,” can include devices commonly marketed as signal blockers, GPS jammers, cell phone jammers, text blockers, etc. Some of the things jammers can do include: prevent cell phones from making or receiving calls, text messages, and emails; prevent Wi-Fi devices from connecting to the Internet; prevent GPS units from receiving correct positioning signals; and most importantly, prevent first responders from locating victims in emergencies.

In addition, the FCC stresses that they have a zero tolerance policy on unauthorized use of jamming devices and will take “aggressive action against violators.”

“Aggressive action,” against persons who illegally use, sell or even advertise cell phone or GPS jammers can include seizure of the device(s), fines of up to $112,500 per act and jail time. I’d call that pretty aggressive action.

Baja California Sen. Alejandro González Alcocer said that the blockage of cell phone calls in Mexican prisons is having a side effect, namely the loss of service to nearby homes.

The paper said that because La Mesa prison in Tijuana and the Mexicali penitentiary are located in urban areas, cell-phone service is not blocked there. If true, this would be the loss of a $1.6 million investment in a cell-phone blocking system.

González, a former Baja California governor, is the president of the Senate’s Justice Committee. He said corruption reigns in prisons, where guard let guns, phones, drugs and other items enter the facilities for a price.

A Los Angeles Times story published Monday about extortion in Mexico said many extortion calls are made from Mexican prisons.

A previous $1.6 million system to block cell phone calls set up in La Mesa prison system also blocked neighbors’ calls.

In Guayaquil, Ecuador, wireless phone bases were set up in a home near a prison, allowed inmates to use a wireless phone inside a prison there.


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Cell Phones Are A Lucrative Form Of Contraband

According to the article below about legislative initiatives in Maryland to increase the penalties for smuggling, possessing or receiving contraband cell phones in prison, “Cell phones are a lucrative form of contraband because, unlike drugs, they have a significant and perpetual resale and rental potential and value.”

With a change of mindset, cell phones can also be lucrative form of commissary revenue for prisons. By deploying a secure prison cell phone solution with all the controls and forensic capabilities of traditional prison payphones, prisons can reduce the demand for contraband cell phones while tapping into a new source of revenue that will offer welcome relief to over-stretched prison operating budgets.

Keeping cell phones and other electronic devices out of the hands of inmates and punishing those prisoners found with such contraband is the aim of two bills that have recently been the subject of committee hearings in the General Assembly.

Cell phones have been a problem at state prisons, especially in metropolitan areas.

The problem isn’t as severe at prisons located in rural areas because friends and relatives can’t simply hand cell phones through fences or toss them over the walls as easily, prison officials have said.

“Cell phones are a lucrative form of contraband because, unlike drugs, they have a significant and perpetual resale and rental potential and value,” according to a fiscal and policy note to the bills prepared by the Department of Legislative Services.

The contraband phones have been implicated in a prisoner’s arrangements for a hit on a witness in the prisoner’s murder case and in transactions involving a prison-based drug ring, officials said.

House Bill 587 increases penalties for possession of or receiving a cell phone or other device for prisoners and for delivering or attempting to deliver a cell phone to a prisoner.

Delivering the device to a prisoner would result in a stiff misdemeanor sentence of up to three years on a first offense and become a felony with a nonsuspendable five-year sentence on second offense, along with fines.

A prisoner caught with a device would face a nonsuspendable felony sentence of five years and a fine of up to five years. The sentence would be consecutive to any sentence the person is already serving.

Senate Bill 669 and the companion bill, House Bill 1086, would take away good-time credit permanently for prisoners caught with a prohibited device.

Good-time credits reduce a prisoner’s sentence for every day that he serves without infractions against prison rules.

Cell phones have become a big safety issue in prisons, Gary Maynard, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has said. Cell phones smuggled into prisons can be used to coordinate illegal activities outside the prison walls and plan escapes and attacks on corrections staff and other inmates.

Two thousand cell phones have been confiscated in Maryland prisons since 2008, according to the department.

The cell phones can be found hidden anywhere, including the bodily orifices of inmates, Maynard said.

The department is using the latest technology, including cell phone-sniffing dogs, to get cell phones away from inmates. The dogs have sniffed out 500 cell phones found since 2008. The dogs also offer something of a psychological deterrent, Maynard said.

“When they walk down the hallway, the cell phones fly,” Maynard said.

The department has a $1.2 billion operating budget and supervises 22,000 inmates in 22 prisons and 70,000 individuals on probation and parole, among other duties.


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Prison Cell Phone Jammer Problems

This 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.”


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Prison Virtual Visits Bring In Real Cash

An interesting article about the use of video visitation in prison. We recently discussed the search for new sources of revenue by prison administrators and the positive impact of visitation on prisoner recidivism. This article highlights the use of technology to accomplish both goals.

Taking these trends one step further, we can envision the time when prisoners are allowed to use the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone service to not only make and receive calls from loved ones, but also to engage in a video visitation over the wireless phone. Like the phone calls, all the needed security and control will be present in the hand-held wireless device when used for video visitation.

As stated in the article, “The company’s revenue-sharing model provides some incentives to corrections agencies. But the real savings are in staffing. Everyone has had to rein in costs. It’s cheaper to put in an Internet system to cut down on inmate movement than to have people come on-site.” Allowing prisoners to make calls, whether voice or video, from their cells will raise revenue, increase safety and reduce cost.

Lydia Curtis walked into the visiting room with a handful of other women Wednesday at the Cape May County Jail, where a sheriff’s officer ran a metal-detecting wand over them.

Curtis, 37, of Lower Township, was there to visit her husband, Ben Curtis, who is awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania on a warrant for failing to complete community service in Bucks County, she said.

“We just talk about normal, daily stuff. He wants to know about the kids. They play sports,” she said of the couple’s four children.

These in-person visits have become less common since Cape May County introduced Internet visitation last April.

The system works like Skype. Inmates or their families pay a fee to chat over the Internet through a video screen. Families can access the system over the web.

County officials are convinced this kind of service could raise millions of dollars in new revenue for the state Department of Corrections.

More jails in New Jersey are considering adopting this kind of service. And one provider, iWebVisit.com of Reno, Nev., recently met with New Jersey officials about using the system at the state’s prisons.

Cape May County freeholders in January 2011 paid iWebVisit.com $67,145 to install 27 video-chat terminals at the jail off Crest Haven Boulevard in Middle Township. Inmate processing fees paid for $17,000 of those costs.

The county receives 46 percent of revenue from the video chats between inmates and their friends, family or even lawyers. The company charges $10 for a 20-minute video chat; $15 for a chat with a lawyer.

While the system has not replaced in-person visits, it has become a popular alternative for inmates and their families, Sheriff Gary Schaffer said.

“Over the summer, about two-thirds of our visits were over the Internet,” he said. “The results are better than I expected and they’ll only get better. We’ve had a couple law firms sign up already. Attorneys are starting to use it more.”

Cape May County collected about $8,000 in revenue since the system went live in May. These earnings are expected to increase to $20,000 in 2012, Administrator Stephen O’Connor said.

The company recently met with the state Department of Corrections about adopting the system at New Jersey’s nine state prisons.

“A presentation has been made, but they haven’t decided which way they can go,” Corrections spokesman Matt Schuman said. Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan would make the final decision, Schuman said.

New Jersey houses about 24,200 inmates, according to the department. That’s about 100 times the average occupancy of the Cape May County jail.

Under the terms of the county’s deal, the state might expect to raise at least $2 million in new revenue per year — more, if the participation rate were higher.

“If the state does go with this kind of thing, they can make millions of dollars per year,” Schaffer said. “Take the number of inmates in the system. Some of our inmates have three visits per day, while before they were lucky to get one visit per week.”

Salem County signed a similar agreement in November. Because Cape May County was the first in New Jersey to try the system, the company offered Cape May County a more favorable revenue-sharing deal.

“They came in by offering us 15 percent,” Salem County Jail Warden Raymond C. Skradzinski said. “We coaxed them up to 25 percent.”

Salem County, which, unlike Cape May County, houses federal inmates awaiting trial from Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, expects to see $10,000 to $20,000 in its first full year, Skradzinski said.

The Nevada company was one of four that bid on the Cape May County proposal. The company provides Internet visitation at jails in six states, spokesman Robert Avery said.

“We’re talking to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security right now. They run all the ICE jails,” he said of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“ICE inmates are typically housed extremely far from their families,” he said. “I’ve been told the ICE inmates are practically wearing out our system. It’s very popular with them.”

Avery said the company’s revenue-sharing model provides some incentives to corrections agencies. But the real savings are in staffing, he said.

“Everyone has had to rein in costs. It’s cheaper to put in an Internet system to cut down on inmate movement than to have people come on-site,” he said.

Schaffer agreed he expects to be able to cut down on overtime for scheduled visitation as more inmates start using the Internet version.

Lower Township’s Curtis says she has tried the Internet visitation from her home, but prefers to save money by coming to the jail when she can.

“It’s a little impersonal,” she said. “State prisons allow contact visits. Prisoners are not going to want to give that up.”

Reached for comment, the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union declined to comment when told the Internet visits were optional.

Salem County’s Skradzinski said prison inmates likely would use the Internet visitation system much more than typical jail inmates. Prisoners serve longer sentences than most jail inmates, which are typically limited to 1 year. And state prisons often impose greater geographic distances between inmates and their families.

Skradzinski recommends the state consider this kind of visitation system.

“It would be the smart thing to do. I definitely see it being the wave of the future,” he said.


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Cellphones Don’t Belong In These Cells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proliferation of cellphones in prisons can have dire consequences.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Smuggled Cell Phones A Prisoner’s Most Dangerous Weapon

This article is a discussion of the problem of contraband cell phones in Ohio prisons. Same issues as everywhere else with the same lack of solutions. However, a secure cell phone service is a solution to the contraband prison cell phone problem. With meshDETECT, the demand for illegal wireless devices is reduced, thereby reducing the contraband value of smuggled cell phones for those who supply them. That means less reward for the same risk and eventually supply will be minimized.

California prison officials have twice caught Charles Manson — the cult leader who masterminded a 1960s murder rampage — with a smuggled mobile phone after he chatted with folks across the country.

In Texas, prison officials seized a smuggled phone after a death row inmate called a state senator looking for help with his appeal.

And in South Carolina, after a prison official was ambushed at his home and nearly killed, authorities determined prisoners used a smuggled phone to organize the attack.

Smartphones, cellphones and other mobile devices are the most dangerous tools in prison, and officials haven’t found a way to keep them out, said Martin Horn, a former commissioner of New York City’s corrections department who now teaches at John Jay College.

“The purpose of imprisonment is to separate criminals from society, and these phones wipe that away,” Horn said. “You can access anything on the Internet, and that presents an enormous and growing challenge.”

In the first four months of 2010, Federal Bureau of Prisons workers confiscated 1,188 cellphones. Many state prisons also were overwhelmed. Guards in California’s prisons, for example, seized more than 8,500 smuggled phones in 2010.

That dwarfs Ohio’s numbers — about 100 phones seized in prison last year — but the trend is picking up here. Between January and May, Ohio authorities reported seizing about 100 phones, said Vinko Kucinic, the chief security threat investigator at the Ohio Department of Corrections.

How do the phones — considered contraband — make it inside?

• Friends or family of inmates stuff phones inside footballs and hike the balls over fences into prison yards for inmates to pick up.

•Visitors hide the phones in diapers a baby is wearing or in a body cavity.

•Corrupt prison guards bring them in, including a California guard who told state investigators he made more than $100,000 in one year from smuggling phones.

For guards, it’s a low-risk, high-profit venture, Horn said.

Smuggling cocaine or heroin to inmates is dangerous because if you’re caught — on or off prison grounds — you’re breaking the law.

But carrying a phone isn’t illegal to start with. And if a guard leaves a phone on a windowsill and an inmate picks it up, it’s often difficult for prison authorities to prove smuggling, Horn said.

Inmates often pay from $300 to $1,500 for a smuggled phone, Horn and other prison security experts say.

In Ohio prisons, inmates hide phones in hollowed-out books or secret compartments in their cells. They also hide shared phones in public spaces where inmates gather, Kucinic said.

How Dimorio McDowell — the federal inmate who ran an organized retail theft operation in Northeast Ohio from his New Jersey prison cell — received his phones or how he hid them from guards is unclear.

Prison officials at Fort Dix declined to answer questions, saying details could compromise security.

Many prison officials say it’s impossible to keep phones away from the 2 million inmates in the U.S. The solution, some have suggested, is to jam phone signals in prisons, making the phones useless.

But the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry says that would be illegal under the Federal Communications Act of 1934 — which prohibits blocking signals.

Mississippi found a compromise — managed access. A computer network there tracks all calls and texts coming in and going out of prisons.

If someone tries to use an unauthorized phone, calls and texts are blocked. In the first six months, the system blocked nearly 650,000 calls at one prison.

But managed access has its drawbacks, Horn cautioned. It’s expensive and, eventually, it will be hacked.

“Just because you’re a prison inmate doesn’t mean you’re stupid,” Horn said. “They’ll figure out a way to get around it.”


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R.I. Bans Cell Phones In Prison Cells

A new law has been passed to ban cell phones in prison cells in Rhode Island.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael J. McCaffrey and Rep. Raymond H. Johnston Jr. sponsored the bill that makes it illegal for prisoners to possess “any portable electronic communication device.”

Under the new law, inmates caught using a cell phone can be punished by a $5,000 fine, a maximum penalty of five more years added on to their prison sentence, or even both.

However, it’s not currently illegal to possess a cell phone at the ACI, but inmates caught with one could face losing their good behavior credits, which would potentially extend an inmate’s sentence.

The Department of Corrections lobbied for the law, saying that it would increase safety and security at the ACI.

“This new law will prevent inmates in prison from directing crimes behind bars,” said Rep. Johnston (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket).

By creating and implementing the new law, the Department of Corrections is hoping to deter illegal activity from taking place while inmates are still behind bars.

“A prisoner should not have access to any type of cell phone or wireless device for the safety of fellow prisoners, corrections officials and individuals affiliated with the inmate outside of the prison walls,” said Senator McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).


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