This month’s strike by inmates in prisons throughout the state have thrown a much-needed spotlight on the problem of contraband cell phones in prison. Indeed, corrections officials believe that the use of illegal devices played a key role in organizing the statewide uprising.
Fortunately, this time around, the smuggled phones were only used to coordinate a protest action against prison policies. They could have been used for much worse.
In California, the notorious Charles Manson managed to get a hold of a cell phone and call people across the country for reasons still unknown.
In Texas, a death row inmate threatened a state senator and his daughters, and in New York another inmate used his cell phone to plan his escape. Prisoners have also arranged drug deals, intimidated witnesses and recruited gang members — all with the touch of a keypad.
It would, therefore, be unwise to dismiss this latest episode in six of our state’s prisons as a passing affair and not take it as an opportunity to implement an effective solution to the problems caused by cell phones in prison.
Indeed, unless state lawmakers stop their dithering and start taking the issue seriously, they might themselves be faced with another protest planned and organized with contraband cell phones, and next time the protests might end violently.
Prison officials at both the state and federal level have advocated numerous solutions to combat contraband cell phones in prisons.
Some have argued that managed access systems or jamming wireless signals in prison are the most effective ways to control the problem.
In reality, managed access is an expensive solution in the elementary stages of development, and while jamming would prevent prisoners from using illegally smuggled phones, it’s implementation is currently illegal and the technology has still not proven its accuracy for application in confined prison environments.
In fact, of the solutions suggested by experts to counteract unauthorized cell phone use in prison, only cell phone detection is affordable, adaptable and immediately available.
And because detection systems allow one to locate and track phones, prison officials can also use this technology to find additional contraband stashed with the cell phone, such as tobacco, weapons or narcotics. It’s for these reasons that detection systems have been introduced in several prisons in the country, including one in Georgia.
In addition, detection systems can differentiate between calls originating in “safe” areas, such as prison offices and parking lots, and calls placed from inside designated off-limits areas, such as cellblocks. This allows corrections officers and other prison officials, who depend on wireless communications, to do their jobs.
Imagine if during this month’s strikes, the system meant to prevent prisoners from using cell phones actually disabled the prison officials’ line of communication as well. We simply can’t afford to place corrections officers in that kind of danger.
This month’s prison strike was an early warning. As more inmates realize that cell phones provide the only unmonitored form of communication from within prison walls, cell phones will continue to grow in popularity.
Detection solutions, however, provide prison officials with a scalable and affordable way to monitor cell phone activity from inside of a prison. It is foolhardy to continue to ignore these systems in the face of a growing threat.