As we have commented before, 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. 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. In New Zealand, a new prison will be installing wall phones in each cell to address these issues.
Regarding the decision to provide enhanced access to telecommunication services, the Corrections Minister defended the policy of phones in every cell. He said it would “not result in a substantial increase in the number of calls being made by prisoners nor changes to who prisoners are calling” but would “reduce the potential for tension in the shared areas around public phones as prisoners will not have to gather and wait to use them”. We believe however, assuming calling is not restricted to a number of calls per day or the typical 15 minutes per call, that call volume will increase, perhaps significantly.
This approach will also allow the prisoners to make personal calls in relative privacy (not secrecy). As one loved on of an inmate in the U.S. commented regarding calls on prison payphones located in common areas, “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?”
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.
Inmates at the country’s newest prison will be allowed to use phones and computers in their cells – but with heavy restrictions and monitoring.
Private prison operator Serco, which has a $840 million, 25-year contract to run the new facility at Wiri, says prisoners’ calls to pre-approved numbers will be monitored, and the computers will not have internet access.
Currently all New Zealand prison cells have televisions, but in the new facility those TVs will double as computer screens with a keyboard and mouse.
“They provide basic computer access for prisoners to work on their studies while locked in their cells,” says Serco director of operations Scott McNairn. “Access to this technology imposes the expectation that prisoners will engage in purposeful activities, such as education, in what can often be an unproductive time in other prisons.”
“Computers are an education tool, they’re an education aid,” Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga told TV3’s The Nation. “They help with building up the skills, building up the education in order for these offenders to go out and get meaningful jobs. We know that’s important.”
As for the phones inside the cells, Mr Lotu-Iiga says they come at “very little cost” to Serco, and will enable prisoners to make regular calls home will help reintegrate them back into society.
“There’s a de-escalation of tension that they’re not lining up behind a public phone in order to use a phone to call their families.”
Mr McNairn says it’s the same system Serco operates in the United Kingdom.
“When Serco introduced this system in UK prisons, it saw significant improvements in prison security, including a marked reduction in attempts to smuggle in mobile phones, a drop in random mandatory drug tests failures, fewer assaults, less bullying and fewer incidents of self-harm.”
Prisoners will only be able to make calls to a list of pre-approved numbers, and will not be able to call one another.