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Jam cell phones in prisons

Date: 8 December 2008
Cell phones have become a major security threat to state prisons, and efforts to remove the contraband haven't been successful. Federal officials should allow the S.C. Corrections Department the necessary latitude to jam cell-phone signals within the prison walls.

State prisons chief Jon Ozmint blames contraband cell phones for enabling most escapes from South Carolina prisons. Phones also are used to commit serious crimes by those who remain in prison. Last summer, for example, a Baltimore resident was gunned down outside his home after a shooting suspect he had identified ordered a hit on him from behind bars, authorities say.

In Texas, prison officials arrested the mother of a death row inmate on charges she paid for minutes on a cell phone that had been smuggled to her condemned son. Authorities said the inmate shared the phone with nine other inmates and called a state senator to say he knew the lawmaker's daughters' names.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates air waves, can grant federal agencies the authority to use jammers to prevent cell tower signals from ever reaching a phone. But there's no such provision for state and local law enforcement. The Corrections Department has filed a formal request for such authority, and FCC officials have indicated they are open to the concept.

At a recent demonstration of the technology at Lieber Correctional Institution, people with cell phones were seated in a visitors' room. All but one phone was rendered unusable by the jammer, and CellAntenna indicated only a tweak was needed to block the last one, too. Phones just outside of the room were not affected.

Critics say it's impossible to contain the jamming technology to one or two buildings and that using it might affect phones nearby. The Department of Corrections acknowledges it will be a challenge to jam calls from prisons' outdoor spaces without impacting off-property phones, but CellAntenna is confident it can do so. Mr. Ozmint's request to the FCC welcomes a provision requiring the jammer not interfere with calls off property.

The FCC should allow the state to test jamming cell phone signals at its prisons, and the state should work to make sure legitimate phone use is not affected. Figuring out how to disable contraband phones in prisons could advance public safety nationwide.

Trying to Keep Cell Phones Out of Prison

Date: 26 November 2008
By Hilary Hylton / Austin Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

Officials conduct a contraband search during a rare prison-wide lockdown at McNeil Island Correctional Center in McNeil Island, Washington. Prison authorities used to have almost complete control over an inmate's ability to communicate with the outside world. By checking their mail and parceling out telephone access - at scheduled times on easily and legally tapped landlines - communication for inmates was difficult and often expensive (their families had to pay for the hefty collect calls, usually the only kind allowed in jail). Today, however, as cell phones proliferate (with an estimated 3.5 billion and counting), they are reaching into every corner of the planet - including jail cells. Authorities in India recently confiscated more than 600 cell phones in a prison in the state of Gujarat. Not even high-security areas like Texas' death row are exempt.

Cell-phone access can mean chaos. Brazilian officials say cell phones are used to organize and plan widespread riots that are endemic to their crowded prisons; Canadian prosecutors said a notorious drug kingpin continued business behind bars using his cell phone; and a man awaiting trial on a homicide charge in Maryland has been accused of arranging via cell phone the murder of a key witness in the case. The examples go on and on, some bordering on the absurd. The mother of a prisoner in Texas even called authorities to complain about her son's bad cell-phone reception in jail. (See pictures of the cell phone through the ages.)

Most prison cell-phone incidents, however, raise serious security concerns. Texas death-row inmate Richard Tabler allegedly used a smuggled cell phone in recent weeks to make threatening calls to Texas state senator John Whitmire, chairman of a key criminal jurisprudence committee. The calls were among 2,800 made in just one month from cell phones used by Tabler and nine of his fellow death-row inmates. After Whitmire alerted state prison authorities to the calls, the high-security East Texas prison was locked down and searched. Authorities found Tabler's phone hidden in the ceiling above a shower. They also found 11 other phones in the sweep. Last week, another search led to the discovery of two SIMM cards in a Bible belonging to death-row inmate Hank Skinner. He denied having a phone, but an X-ray revealed one hidden in his rectum.

Even before Tabler's notorious calls, Texas prison authorities were investigating 19 cases of death-row cell-phone use and 700 cases throughout the entire state system. Tabler's mother and sister have been arrested on felony charges for buying cell-phone minutes and equipment for him. But it is not just family members who help smuggle the phones. Prison authorities say guards have been paid $2,000 - more than a month's wages - to bring in contraband cell phones. Small cell phones and postage-stamp-size SIMM cards are easy to smuggle into prisons in body cavities or simply by throwing them over a fence inside a ball, says Josh Gelinas, a spokesman for South Carolina's prison system, where more than 1,000 phones have been confiscated this year.

Some states, like Florida and New Jersey, have passed new tough laws making cell-phone-smuggling a felony. They are also using cell-phone-sniffing dogs to hunt down the contraband and assigning guards to do metal-detecting wand searches for hidden phones. But Gelinas said South Carolina's prison system is "short-funded" and cannot afford to divert manpower to searches. "It makes much more sense to use the cell-phone jamming technology that's available," Gelinas says. The problem for state and local prison administrators is that jamming cell-phone signals is illegal and available only to federal agencies under strictly controlled guidelines. Anyone violating the law, including state and local law enforcement, can be heavily fined by the Federal Government.

South Carolina is hoping to persuade federal authorities to allow cell-phone jamming. Last week prison officials invited CellAntenna Corp. to demonstrate such technology for state and federal lawmakers. The prison system also invited representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates jamming. The demonstration, however, drew opposition from the cell-phone industry's lobbying arm, CTIA - The Wireless Association, which sent a letter to the FCC urging the agency to block CellAntenna from "brazenly" violating federal law. The association's chief lobbyist, Steve Largent, a retired professional football player and former Congressman, said jamming could interfere with emergency phone calls and public safety communications. But the demonstration went forward. CellAntenna used a suitcase-size device to block cell-phone signals in a large auditorium, showing how a defined area could be jammed.

The debate over jamming by state and local governments has been presented to the FCC before. Both CellAntenna, a Miami-based company, and CTIA have introduced petitions seeking rule changes, and now the state of Texas has filed a request for clarification on the issue, given its recent problems with inmates. Howard Melamed, president of CellAntenna, has been waging battles in the courts and at the FCC against jamming for more than a decade. Melamed says he has no interest in lifting current laws to allow individuals or private enterprises like theaters and restaurants to install jamming devices, but he does believe that state and local law enforcement should have access to it. But CTIA spokesman Joe Farren disagrees. "You are talking about potentially blocking emergency communications within and potentially outside a large structure," he says. Farren insists that "this is a contraband issue" and, as such, prisons should utilize searches and other methods to find phones rather than "throwing out the baby with the bathwater."

Speaking to TIME from Panama, where he was on a sales trip to Latin American prisons, Melamed said CellAntenna is selling jamming technology worldwide, sometimes with the help of promotional trips arranged by the U.S. Department of Commerce. He calls it ironic that one branch of the Federal Government is promoting jamming while another is blocking it. Across the globe, more and more countries are buying jamming equipment. Britain has embarked on a major study to address the issue. Given a new U.S. Administration and anticipated changes at the top of the FCC, it is unlikely that the dueling petitions before the agency will move at anything approaching warp speed, despite mounting pressure from state prison authorities. Most observers expect this debate to land in the lap of Congress. Meanwhile, prison authorities will continue with their cavity searches.

CellAntenna and South Carolina Department of Corrections
Hold Successful "Cell Phone" Jamming Demonstration

Date: 25 November 2008
Politics, Law & Society Press release from: Strategic Vision, LLC PR Agency: Strategic Vision

(openPR) - Coral Springs, FL/November 24, 2008 - CellAntenna Corporation and the South Carolina Department of Corrections held a successful "cell phone" jamming demonstration on Friday, November 21, 2008 at the Lieber Correctional Institution outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The South Carolina Department of Corrections and correction's facilities nationally are confronted with a growing threat to the safety and security of the public and corrections' staff - unauthorized use of cell phones in prisons. The illegal use of cell phones in prisons allows prisoners to coordinate and conduct criminal activity from behind bars. Currently the 1934 Communications Act prohibits local and state law enforcement from using jamming devices. CellAntenna has been leading a national legal challenge to give local and state law enforcement the power to jam such illegal activity. They have been opposed by CTIA, the organization representing the cellular providers. Indeed, just minutes before the demonstration was held, CTIA President Steve Largent contacted South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford in attempt to block the demonstration. Governor Sanford refused the "Stay of Execution" request.

In the demonstration, CellAntenna showed that using jamming devices in prisons will not affect prison security radios or any cell phone equipment outside of the Lieber Correctional Institution as opponents of jamming in prisons have alleged. In attendance were members of the media, correctional officers from other states, and representatives of elected state and federal officials. "I want to thank the South Carolina Department of Corrections for allowing us to make this demonstration and applaud them for their recognition of this growing threat to our safety," said Howard Melamed, President and CEO of CellAntenna. "Cell phones are now considered to be the 'New Cash' for inmates. Prison authorities are helpless in defending themselves and the public against the threat as the 1934 Communications Act prohibits anyone but the Federal Government from jamming communication," he added.

"The FCC and the CTIA have said that jamming of cell phones should not be allowed in prisons since there is no way of containing the jamming within the prison walls," continued Melamed. "In this demonstration, using CellAntenna Corporation's technology, we proved that jamming can be contained and refuted the FCC and CTIA claims conclusively with the media recording the event. There was no interference in normal legal prison operations just as there will not be if law enforcement is allowed to use jamming equipment nationally. As a result of this demonstration, the state of Texas has invited CellAntenna to hold a similar demonstration where the problem of illegal cell phones in prison is very acute and a state senator received a death threat from an inmate using a cell phone."

"We welcome any government organization to have us provide the same demonstration so that they can be informed about the safe use of jamming, and to help change the laws to allow their institutions the right to stop criminals and terrorist from using cell phones," said Melamed. In 2005, CellAntenna Corporation mounted a judicial challenge to the constitutionality of the FCC restrictions, seeking to permit the use of cellular jamming devices by state and local governments and first responders. After the United States District Court Southern District of Florida in Miami ruled that it lacked jurisdiction, CellAntenna filed a Petition for Rulemaking before the FCC to allow state and local governments to use jamming equipment. The CTIA, of which every cellular service provider is a member, opposes CellAntenna's position.

SC Prison Cell Phone Jamming Demonstration Conducted

Date: 21 November 2008
The South Carolina Department of Corrections has a new tool to fight crime from within its prison walls. It's a new technology called cell phone jamming. WJBF News Channel 6's Capitol reporter, Robert Kittle, has the story.

Columbia, SC-The South Carolina Department of Corrections demonstrated Friday that it can jam cell phone signals inside state prisons without blocking cell service for people outside. Now, it will ask the Federal Communications Commission for permission to conduct a longer term pilot program at the state's prisons.

Cell phones inside prisons are a huge problem. Corrections director Jon Ozmint says, "In South Carolina, they have coordinated escapes using cell phones. They've committed credit card fraud and right now are committing credit card fraud using cell phones. But across the country they've actually killed people using cell phones, put out hits on judges, prosecutors and witnesses."

Inmates get the cell phones by having friends put them inside footballs or taping them up and throwing them over prison fences. Once they have the phones, they can use them to coordinate the time and place to throw more contraband over the fences so the inmates can pick it up before corrections officers can.

Ozmint would like to use technology that can jam cell phone signals within the prisons, but the 1934 federal Communications Act prevents that. The cell phone industry's association is also opposing the use of jamming technology, saying it would disrupt the calls of people on the outside and radio calls of corrections officers inside.

To prove that's not true, Ozmint set up a demonstration with CellAntenna Corporation, which makes the briefcase-size jammer. Inside a building at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, the jamming equipment was turned on. The people who had been invited to witness the demonstration then checked their cell phones and they were not working. But while the jammer was still on, several others went just outside the building and were able to make a cell call. Howard Melamed, CEO of CellAntenna, says the technology will not interfere with officers' radios or with anyone's cell phones outside the prison. "The energy from our jammer doesn't transmit past the wall. The walls stop it. And I will tell you that the just the air alone stops it from that distance. So there's absolutely no way that our low jamming signal, our very, very small amount of cushion, would ever make it through these walls into the local neighborhood," he says.

The wireless industry has suggested that South Carolina use different technology that would find cell phone signals within prisons. But Ozmint says that would cost up to $1 million per prison and wouldn't work as well, since the signal can be traced only when the cell phone is turned on. The jamming technology demonstrated at Lieber would cost about $100,000 per prison and wouldn't require extra manpower to conduct searches.

When asked why the wireless industry would be opposed to the jamming technology when it would not interfere with cell signals outside the prisons, Ozmint and Melamed said it was because of money. Inmates use disposable cell phones with prepaid minutes on them, and wireless providers charge much more for those prepaid minutes than they do for the minutes on a traditional wireless plan.

Prison will test cell phone jamming device

Date: 26 November 2008
AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 26 (UPI) - Texas corrections officials are working with a Florida company to test cell phone jamming technology inside the Travis County jail in Austin. The proposed Dec. 18 test by CellAntenna Corp. will take place less than a month after a similar one at a South Carolina prison, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

"Federal law gives federal agencies the authority to jam cell signals and I think it's strange the states could have inmates just as dangerous as the feds and we can't jam the cell signals," said state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives Corrections Committee. Madden said federal law would have to be changed before states would be permitted to jam cell phone signals inside their prisons.

The issue of cell phones in prison has been a hot topic since a condemned double murderer made calls from death row to a state senator and a reporter. The inmate, his mother and his sister were arrested on contraband charges after the lawmaker reported the calls.

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