The Times-Tribune

Calif. tries again to thwart prison cellphone smuggling

Hundreds of detection devices being installed.

- BY DON THOMPSON

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — 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.

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.

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