meshDETECT, Secure Prison Cell Phone Solutions ™
meshDETECT, Secure Prison Cell Phone Solutions ™

Contraband Prison Cell Phones On The Rise In Canada

The 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.