California Prisons Block Smuggled Cell Phones

A private California business is paying millions of dollars to setup a block on prison web searches, phone calls, and text messages made by inmates using smuggled cellphones. According to state officials, the setup will not cost tax payers a cent because the interested company, Globel Tel Link, owns the current pay phones which prisoners are legally allowed to use. Company officials are predicting that as soon as the smuggled cell phones are disabled, prisoners will have no other option than to use their pay phones.

California is amongst the states battling a rise in illegal cellphones being smuggled into correctional facilities for inmates. Some are used for legitimate reasons such as lonely prisoners trying to stay in touch with friends and family members, but in other instances, they are being used to run illegal enterprises out on the streets, orchestrate attacks on guards, and coordinate intimidation of witnesses. Basically, some of the inmates are running their criminal enterprises from behind bars.

In the last year, California prison guards confiscated over 15,000 illegal phones, almost one phone for every 11 inmates. Five years back there were about 261 phones that would have turned up behind prison walls. Their use is so widespread that even criminals such as Charles Manson have been caught twice in possession of a contraband cellphone. The blatant thwarting of the law leaves prison officials inclined to pursue a cellphone jamming system. In regards to the implementation of a cell phone blocking system, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate was quoted by the L.A. Times having said:

“This groundbreaking and momentous technology will enable [the prison system] to crack down on the potentially dangerous communications by inmates.”

Some prisons have started searching prison employees, who are surprisingly considered the primary source of illegal cellphones for inmates. Some searches have taken place prior to employees arriving at work. A standard airport search is enforced for all inmate visitors. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) are beginning to fight these searches as they have the potential to insult employees and cost the state millions of dollars.

Correction officers are paid for “walk time” which is simply the time it takes for them to walk from the entrance of the prison to their designated posts.

The use of cellphone signal jams placed around prisons was banned by the Federal Communications Commission. Just last year, Global Tel Links contract for providing pay phones in the state lockups came up for renewal. Matthew Cate said the future vendor would have to pay for a legal substitution in order to prevent further cell phone use. Each prison will have its own cell phone tower, which prison officials will have control over. A set list of approved phones will be enforced in order to maintain control over phone usage. The installation of these systems in all 33 California prisons could potentially cost roughly $16.5 million to $33 million.

A basic 15-minute phone call from a prison pay phone costs the person receiving the call roughly $2, according to prison officials. Global Tel Link will not be able to increase the rates once a cellphone blocking device is in use; in fact, they will be required to lower the rates. The payoff is expected to be derived from the rise in demand as alternatives will be scarce. Corrections officers conducted a single-day test of a similar concept at a California prison and managed to intervene over 4,000 attempts to makes phone calls, send/receive text messages, and/or internet access attempts. Days after the test was implemented, the use of pay phone calls went up 64%. All calls are monitored and recorded for safety purposes.

An advocate of inmate rights argues that most of the inmates are using contraband phones to contact their families and friends. He also believes that keeping in touch is an absolutely essential ingredient when it comes to achieving a positive outcome once inmates are released back into society.