Cal­i­for­nia tries again to thwart pri­son cell­phone smug­gling

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

SACRA­MENTO: Cal­i­for­nia is in­stalling nearly 1,000 so­phis­ti­cated metal de­tec­tors, scan­ners and se­cret se­cu­rity cam­eras at its prisons in its lat­est at­tempt to thwart the smug­gling of cell­phones, thou­sands of which con­tinue to flood the prisons de­spite pre­vi­ous ef­forts.

Of­fi­cials say the phones can be used to co­or­di­nate ev­ery­thing from at­tacks in pri­son to crimes on the street, yet they have thus far been un­able to pre­vent even high-se­cu­rity in­mates like cult killer Charles Man­son from re­peat­edly get­ting the de­vices that are il­le­gal be­hind bars.

Cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials told The As­so­ci­ated Press a year ago that they were halt­ing the ex­pan­sion of a now 5-year-old pro­gram de­signed to make unau­tho­rized cell­phones use­less by cap­tur­ing their sig­nals be­fore calls are con­nected. Of­fi­cials fear the call-in­ter­cept­ing de­vices may not be able to keep up with in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated cell­phones.

So Vir­ginia-based Global Tel-Link, the na­tion’s largest pri­son phone com­pany, is head­ing a new ap­proach funded by a pro­jected $17 mil­lion a year from Cal­i­for­nia in­mates and their fam­i­lies who use land­lines to make phone calls that are mon­i­tored for se­cu­rity rea­sons. Those range from 10 cents per minute for lo­cal calls to 25 cents per minute for col­lect in­ter­state calls, in keep­ing with rates set by the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion. GTL has been ac­cused by in­mates and their fam­i­lies of charg­ing ex­or­bi­tant rates for phone calls, prompt­ing some to join a class-ac­tion law­suit against the com­pany. The Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is in­stalling 272 more metal de­tec­tors, 68 X-ray ma­chines to scan pack­ages, 103 low-dose X-ray scan­ners, 170 hid­den sur­veil­lance cam­eras, 34 de­vices to de­crypt and an­a­lyze cell­phones, and 272 scan­ners that de­tect mag­netic sig­nals.

Re­mov­ing il­le­gal cell­phones can force in­mates to use the prisons’ phone sys­tem, said Jim Vis­cardi, vice pres­i­dent of global se­cu­rity for Illi­nois-based Me­trasens, which is pro­vid­ing the mag­netic-sig­nal de­tec­tors. The sen­si­tive scan­ners can de­tect tiny metal ob­jects even if they are in­side a body cav­ity, a com­mon way of smug­gling phones and weapons in­side prisons.

Un­mon­i­tored cell­phone

The lat­est crack­down is un­likely to de­ter in­mates who want to con­duct il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties us­ing an un­mon­i­tored cell­phone, said Mitch Volkart, a Global Tel-Link prod­uct man­ager. “There is no magic bul­let,” he said. “You can’t try to ad­dress the de­mand be­cause the de­mand is al­ways go­ing to be there.”

So it’s bet­ter to con­trol the sup­ply, Volkart said, not only by cap­tur­ing il­licit phones but an­a­lyz­ing their calls and con­tents. That anal­y­sis has at times led to in­ves­ti­ga­tors un­cov­er­ing weapons or drugs within prisons, he said. The com­pany has sim­i­lar pro­grams with other states in­clud­ing In­di­ana, Michi­gan, Ohio and Ok­la­homa, he said. Smug­glers are get­ting trick­ier: In April, they at­tempted to use a drone to fly two cell­phones into Iron­wood State Pri­son, 130 miles east of Los An­ge­les, though the drone crashed be­fore it could de­liver the goods.

And all the state’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts haven’t pre­vented Man­son, the 82-year-old cult leader, from be­ing caught with cell­phones three times most re­cently in Fe­bru­ary, but also in 2009 and 2011. Au­thor­i­ties say a vis­i­tor was thwarted in 2013 when he was caught try­ing to bring Man­son a phone con­cealed in a boot heel. The new de­tec­tion de­vices are ex­pected to be used on in­mates, vis­i­tors and em­ploy­ees in all 35 adult prisons and three ju­ve­nile fa­cil­i­ties by July.

Too soon

Cor­rec­tions depart­ment spokes­woman Vicky Wa­ters said it is too soon to say if the scan­ners will re­place body cav­ity searches or a con­tro­ver­sial process known as con­tra­band sur­veil­lance watches - or more in­for­mally, “potty watches.” In­mates sus­pected of swal­low­ing or con­ceal­ing con­tra­band in body cav­i­ties are iso­lated and their hands re­strained for sev­eral days or un­til they com­plete at least three bowel move­ments.

“Why can’t they do X-rays or some­thing ... like the air­ports do to us now?” asked Irma Cooper, who had to leave her bra in the car when she went to visit her son be­cause it con­tained metal. “I just think that’s ridicu­lous in this day and age, when they can do those scans.”

She was fur­ther dis­mayed when her son told her he had to un­dergo a dig­i­tal rec­tal exam each time he left the vis­it­ing room at High Desert State Pri­son, to make sure he wasn’t smug­gling con­tra­band. Wa­ters said in­mates are strip-searched and scanned with metal de­tec­tors, but are not rou­tinely sub­jected to rec­tal ex­ams. — AP

— AP

VACAVILLE: In this April 10, 2009, file photo, Cor­rec­tional Of­fi­cer Jose San­doval in­spects one of the more than 2,000 cell phones con­fis­cated from in­mates at Cal­i­for­nia State Pri­son, Solano in Vacaville, Cal­i­for­nia.

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