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South Carolina Wants To Jam Cell Phone Signals 601

Corey Brook writes "The South Carolina state prison system wants the FCC to grant them and local officers permission to block cell phone signals. News has been out about the growing problem of them perps smuggling cell phones into prisons for a while now. Inmates use cell phones as commerce, to implement fraud, smuggle drugs and weapons, and to order hits. Of course, some may use it to just talk to a loved one any time they can." Hopefully movie theaters and restaurants do it next.
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South Carolina Wants To Jam Cell Phone Signals

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  • by cheetham ( 247087 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:24AM (#25872271) Homepage

    I must resist mentioning how in Soviet Russia, mobile phones jam you!

    In my local cinema recently, people were quite good with keeping phones on silent, but the light from people checking and sending text messages still annoyed me a bit.

    • by 19thNervousBreakdown ( 768619 ) <davec-slashdot&lepertheory,net> on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:43AM (#25872451) Homepage

      But if you ban cell phones in prison, only criminals will have cell phones in prison!

    • Re:Mobile phones (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:57AM (#25872627) Homepage

      Our local cinema already blocks cell-phone signals. Active blocking violates FCC regs. Passive blocking is just fine per my understanding. Phones work in the lobby but drop to 0 bars as soon as you get to the hallway leading to the screens.

      The logistics of retro-fitting an entire prison complex with a passive blocking cage may be prohibitively difficult, though. In the theater, it was a design feature when it was built a couple of years ago.

      • Re:Mobile phones (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jfeldredge ( 1008563 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:01PM (#25873405)
        Another possible solution is to have a dummy base station that the cell phones will connect to, since it will have a stronger signal than the towers farther from the prison. If the base station is set up so as not to pass any calls on, it effectively blocks the calls. However, such a solution is currently not allowed as it would also interfere with calls for some distance around the prison, as well as the intended calls originating inside the prison.
    • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:25PM (#25874563) Homepage Journal

      A 15 mW pointer laser in the face of a person waving lights around a darkened theater like that should do the trick. Everyone else will get the message, too, and you have to blind only a minimum of selfish bastards to do it. After a while, society generally will learn the lesson, and the lasers will become merely the stuff of legend.

    • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:37PM (#25875489)
      No young person wears watches anymore. Some of the newer cell phones now have secondary clock LEDs, mainly to save screen-lighting power beacuse this is the most popular cell-phone use.

      In a very engrossing movie, I rarely see cell phones opened. For example last week at the new James Bond move which mostly action.
  • smuggling (Score:5, Funny)

    by RemoWilliams84 ( 1348761 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:25AM (#25872275)

    I just realized what they mean by smuggling them in. I'm guessing I wouldn't want one of those phones close to my mouth/nose.

    • by decalod85 ( 1214532 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:32AM (#25872349)
      My guess is that slimline phones are very popular. I wonder if they get "crappy" reception?
    • by n3tcat ( 664243 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:35AM (#25872379)

      I just realized what they mean by smuggling them in. I'm guessing I wouldn't want one of those phones close to my mouth/nose.

      Because you're allergic to the cake frosting? </naive>

    • by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:42AM (#25872439) Homepage
      I'm going to get a cell phone implanted in my penis in case I ever go to prison, that way if anyone ever gets caught using it the guards will just think they're talking to my penis. I'm guessing that's normal behavior in prison.

      Even if I never go to prison, I can always just keep it on vibrate and still get some use out of it.
    • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:44AM (#25872467) Journal
      OK they claim they're smuggling cellphones into prisons somehow (heh I wonder if they put them in vibrate mode ;) ).

      To me the big problem really is that if they can smuggle in stuff the size of a cellphone they can smuggle in lots of other more dangerous stuff.

      I don't get why are cellphones themselves a problem, and why the solution is jamming them. After all:

      1) If you're actually going to use the cellphones to communicate wirelessly (rather than use them to play games or other stuff), they will emit a very detectable signal.

      So it's trivial to find them if they're on.

      2) It's a prison, if prisoners are not allowed cellphones, guards can probably walk in at any time, and confiscate them after detecting them by whatever means. And the culprits involved get the usual punishment stuff.

      3) The prison could put their own cell stations and listen in. For typical GSM stuff, while the comms between the phone and the base stations are encrypted (albeit intentionally weakened crypto), the comms from the base station to the rest of the network is in plaintext. No really expensive fancy stuff needed.
      • by Rary ( 566291 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:25AM (#25872995)

        Regarding your second point, I suspect that part of the problem is that, while guards are supposed to be the ones enforcing the rules, the sad reality is that guards are often part of the problem. It's well known that much of the prison drug supply comes from guards selling to prisoners, so it's not much of a stretch to think that guards might be supplying cell phones to prisoners as well.

        • by flajann ( 658201 ) <[ed.xmg] [ta] [llehctim.derf]> on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:00PM (#25873379) Homepage Journal

          Regarding your second point, I suspect that part of the problem is that, while guards are supposed to be the ones enforcing the rules, the sad reality is that guards are often part of the problem. It's well known that much of the prison drug supply comes from guards selling to prisoners, so it's not much of a stretch to think that guards might be supplying cell phones to prisoners as well.

          Whenever there's a market, a way will be found.

          Actually, if they stopped locking people up for victimless crimes, this would be less of a problem! You thow someone in for a victimless "crime", and he gets educated to do real crime when he's released.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by superflippy ( 442879 )

          It's not so much that, it's that our prison system is severely underfunded. SC spends less per prisoner than any other state and has a higher per capita prison population than most. We just don't have enough guards to properly enforce rules.

          It's gotten so bad that the head of the Dept. of Corrections wants to let nonviolent offenders go early [] to save money and ease the crowding.

      • by hrieke ( 126185 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:36AM (#25873117) Homepage

        I think you need to watch a few PBS documentaries on prisons to understand how they work and the stresses that the guards are under.
        Also, the money that it takes to run a prison is rather high, you don't have unlimited manpower, and it's dangerous stuff. So item #2 isn't likely to happen with out about 5 other guards with you, in full gear. #3 isn't really feasible since a guard could sell access to his phone, which potentially wouldn't be closely watched.
        Your statement about the other dangerous stuff is 100% correct.

      • by Intron ( 870560 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:38AM (#25873139)

        "I don't get why are cellphones themselves a problem, and why the solution is jamming them." []

        The state makes a fortune off prison telephones. All of the talk about "planning crimes" or "drug deals" is total BS.

        • You hit the nail on the head regarding much of the real issue. In jail/prison you have to use the very expensive phone service that the crooks^H^H^H^H^H^H warden and other powers that be have set up. They make a HUGE amount of money price gouging. If you ignored the profit aspect the other reason is that crimes get committed - such as no contact order violations, etc. - and the prison officials want to record every call made by a prisoner for this reason. Still, the reason they are trying to Jam it is
        • by Insightfill ( 554828 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:34PM (#25873837) Homepage

          The state makes a fortune off prison telephones. All of the talk about "planning crimes" or "drug deals" is total BS.

          In Illinois, the collect call rate for the prison system is $2.00 to accept a call, then 25cents/min thereafter. Criminal. The fact is, contact with outside family is the only thing keeping some of these inmates sane, and helps reduce the recidivism rate as well. These collect call rates tend to lead to phone service disconnects for the people who accept them.

          A half hour call with my brother costs more than it would cost to add another line to my cell phone plan.

        • by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:17PM (#25874429)

          "I don't get why are cellphones themselves a problem, and why the solution is jamming them."


          The state makes a fortune off prison telephones. All of the talk about "planning crimes" or "drug deals" is total BS.

          You got that right. I worked in the inmate phone racket (as a peon engineer) many years ago, when the market first opened up. In the beginning, county jails and smaller prisons were served by independent phone companies. These companies were mostly local pay-telephone operators -- a market created with the AT&T breakup -- who discovered that it was far more profitable to operate jail-phones than coin operated pay phones. For one thing, you didn't need to go around collecting the coin: inmate phones were collect call only. Secondly, they charged the highest tariffed rate: person-to-person, operator-assisted, collect with sugar on top rates.

          There was no actual operator to pay, the inmate just dialed and said his name at the voice prompt and the phone called up his mom/wife/girlfriend with the recorded message: "Will you accept a collect call from inmate x in the county jail? Dial 'one' to accept, 'two' to refuse." Even a local call would cost at least 25 cents plus $1.50 to $3.00 in fees. If the applicable tariff allowed, even these local calls were charged by the minute. An inmate's loved ones could easily get charged hundreds of dollars a month just to keep in touch. There was no warning that these calls would be that expensive.

          The jails were happy to provide this service, since the commissions they would receive really helped the jail budget. The jail operators weren't too concerned with the ethics of taking kickbacks, since it was common practice for pay telephone operators to pay a site commission to the property manager in exchange for allowing the placement of the pay phone in the store/bar/restaurant/office building/etc. Of course, the inmates were literally captive consumers. There was no other legal method of real-time communication with the outside world.

          Some places had laws that required that the commissions be used for inmate welfare and education only. And there were some particularly ethical jail administrators that also used site commissions only for benefit of the prisoners even without a law requiring it. But usually the commissions went right back into the general fund operating the facility, with the benefit that the administrator or his/her boss could spend it as they pleased, whereas government provided (tax) funding had to be spent where the governing authority specified.

          There were also "gifts" provided to sheriffs and jail administrators. These were usually "in-kind", to provide some cover from bribery laws. An in-kind gift could be an artist-signed wildlife lithograph by a well-known, first-class illustrator.

          I've long since been out of that field, and the small operators have consolidated and many have sold out to big communications firms, but the business model remains the same.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        obviously there are some really determined inmates in the prison system. perhaps we just need to redirect or refocus their drive towards productive tasks. for instance:

        1. if they want unfettered access to communication with the outside world, give them a computer with just a basic OS installed and an internet connection. no browser, no e-mail client, no instant messenger. just offer voluntary classes on Java, C++, Perl, or whatever, and give them books on TCP/IP and socket programming.
        2. erect a firewall to block
    • I figured they would just have a visitor bring it to them.
    • its not inmates with cellphones coming in at intake, and its probably unlikely that anyone other than a CORRECTIONS OFFICER gets a phone in for someone. the real issue is corruption here. i doubt a CO would smuggle a gun in for you at any cost, but a cell phone... well everyone has a price i guess. i think south carolinas first move should be to investigate how so many cell phones get inside in the first place.
  • "Hopefully movie theaters and restaurants do it next."

    That's the one thing that really pisses me off when I go to watch a film in the cinema: some dickhead who decides to start texting or checking the football scores during the movie.

    Seriously, these guys must be loaded if they can afford to pay £8 to watch a film and then spend the whole time on their fucking phone.

    • by internerdj ( 1319281 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:38AM (#25872401)
      For a long time I agreed with this but then I realized the last place I want my phone blocked in an emergency is someplace with minimum wage workers (and probably managers.) And as obnoxious as a phone is in the theater, those are the same idiots who talk to the people they come with during the film anyways.
      • by Sobrique ( 543255 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:00AM (#25872663) Homepage
        I'd be sad. I'm on call, so I take my phone with me, set it to silent, and leave the cinema if I get called out - this happens very rarely on a saturday afternoon, but there would be trouble if I knowingly went somewhere there was no phone coverage.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yeah, because all minimum wage workers are sooooooo stupid. Why, they can't figure out how to operate a regular phone. If the building catches fire they'll probably just stand there and burn to death rather than call for help. It's common knowledge that they're so dumb that they can't drive, read or write, tie their own shoes, and they have to be reminded to breathe occasionally.

        Or maybe you're just an arrogant snob who really needs a reality check. Newsflash: a lot of those minimum wage workers you so pomp

    • by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:38AM (#25872405)
      I wouldn't. A friend of mine worked for the Red Cross, and was required to keep an emergency phone on her at all times when she was on-call-- and those on-call periods could last upwards of a week. Or how about a doctor who needs to be accessible immediately, but also has social obligations?

      We don't need jammers in theatres and restaurants. What we need are old-fashioned ushers, and old-fashioned shaming. Some asshole keeps lighting up five rows down? Shout at him to quit it. If he gives you guff, go to the manager. You'll probably get a free ticket out of the deal, and he'll get turfed. If you're at a restaurant... well sorry, but you're at a restaurant. People socialize over food.

      • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:25AM (#25873005)

        I am sure that friend was not allowed to do a lot of other things. Sorry, you are on call, that means you are not able to go to a restaurant or movie. Tough luck. Talk to you employer for compensation.

        The doctors I know all turn off their phone during the movie. OTOH they also send text messages to each other during operations, where mere mortals are not even allowed to turn on their phone. (Yes, during the operation.)

        Restaurants do not give much problems here. People take the call outside after the phone was set to vibrate. If they would be on call, they would go outside every 30 minutes or so (like the smokers) and check if they have a message.

        Doctors on emergency call that I know would not go to dinners, but stayed at home. They would do the same if there were blockers.

        If those people do not like it, take a job that does not require you to be on call. I should not suffer from your career choice.

      • by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:46AM (#25873241) Homepage Journal

        We don't need jammers in theatres and restaurants.

        Well, what we really need is more responsible people that think about other people around them a little.

        Unfortunately, that is outside of your or mine or the theater management's area. We can't change those people. But we (that is, one of us, the management) can put in jammers.

        It's not the perfect solution. But if the perfect solution is theoretical, a good practical solution will do.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:17AM (#25872885) Homepage Journal

      It's illegal to jam signals electronically, but so far Faraday cages are legal. My friend Mike has a corrogated steel barn, wne when you're in the barn your phone will NOT work, perod.

      Theaters could coat the theater walls with aluminum to lagally block signals. I wish they would.

      Prisons could do the same thing. But actually, I think letting prisoners have cell phones is a GOOD thing; that is, if we want to rehabilitate these people. Sadly, I fewr we don't, as a place like Joliet is Crime University.

  • by kabloom ( 755503 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:27AM (#25872289) Homepage

    I seem to recall reading about cell phone blocking paint [] and wall paper []. I doubt these require FCC approval. On the other hand, they're harder to get rid of when you use the building for a new purpose, and no longer care about cell blocking. The illegal electronic jammers that they probably want to get FCC approval for could be turned off as soon as they were no longer necessary.

  • My concerns (Score:5, Informative)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:28AM (#25872297)

    I work right next to SCDC's main prison facility in Columbia. Right now, the thing that really concerns us is "spillover" of this jamming into our area. We have a wifi network that we depend on (and cellphones we need, of course) and so the last thing we need is this plan having unitended consequences for wireless signals. It doesn't help that South Carolina state government has a long history of hiring shoddy technology contractors who promise the world and deliver a buggy product that only makes things worse. Jon Ozmint (the head of SCDC) has sworn that it won't leak outside of their facilities, but I'm somewhat cautious.

    The Ridegville test referred to in the article wasn't that worthwhile because Ridgeville is isolated (it's in the middle of nowhere and lagely self-contained.) The main facility in Columbia is a much larger, more wide open area located right next to the state police headquaters, Dept. of Public Safery, and several other state agencies and businesses--all of whom depend greatly on their cellhones, networks, and communications equipment. I just don't see how they could blanket that whole area and not have spillover jamming--Unless they restrict it to inside of their buildings which would mean that most prisoners would still have plenty of opportunities to use their cellphones (since most prisoners spend a lot of time outside the buildings, except for the really high-level ones)

    It's not that we're not sympathetic to the problem of cellphones in the prison system. We're just worried that they might be rushing forward with an untested and possibly ill-advised solution that could have a deleterious effect on nearby wireless usage. We're hoping they will at least give us a testing period to see its effects before they bring it online.

    • Re:My concerns (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:42AM (#25872443)

      Jon Ozmint (the head of SCDC) has sworn that it won't leak outside of their facilities, but I'm somewhat cautious.

      I'm pretty sure that all signals leak to some extent. If he claims no leakage at all, then he's already making ill-informed claims.

    • Minor correction...

      It doesn't help that everyone has a long history of hiring shoddy technology contractors who promise the world and deliver a buggy product that only makes things worse.

      As another poster observed [] there's other ways to implement blocking cell phone signals. Those other ways probably don't look too "sexy" though (i.e. not enough shiny blinky lights for management and/or not high enough margins for the contractor ).

    • If prisoners are doing UNSAFE things with the phone (calling in hits)
      then shouldn't the location of the phone be obvious. Prisons are fairly stationary.

      So, call your nearby phone providers, tell them your coords, and block
      the region.

      No need for expensive new machines to do this.

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:28AM (#25872299) Journal

    What in the hell are inmates doing with cell phones in the first place?

    In an environment where even the smallest improvised weapon can be found and confiscated, you'd think it would be drop-easy for the prison to find and confiscate a cell phone. Any inmate caught with one gets n weeks/months added to their sentence... problem solved.

    Seriously - it's prison, not a Hilton, FFS - if they need to use a phone (for speaking to their lawyer, loved-ones, etc), let 'em use a POTS phone wired into a wall somewhere.

    The solution the SC prison system is looking for? It's akin to wrapping ships in Saran Wrap to fix any potential leaks - expensive and not very workable over time...


    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Prisoners are notoriously good at smuggling in and hiding contraband (they have all day to think of little else and very little to lose if they get caught). And it doesn't help that SCDC is SERIOUSLY understaffed right now (thanks to years of budget cuts and neglect).
    • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:44AM (#25872473) Journal

      you'd think it would be drop-easy for the prison to find and confiscate a cell phone

      You've never been in prison have you? ;)

      Imagine having nothing to do for 24 hours a day other than think of ways to smuggle shit past the guards. Think you might come up with a few ideas?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 )
        Imagine having nothing to do for 24 hours a day other than think of ways to smuggle shit past the guards.

        Smuggling shit is notoriously easy. Everyone of us does it every day. Smuggling other stuff, like cellphones or weapons, is somewhat harder, and requires a modicum of thought.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Culture20 ( 968837 )
      The other prisoners have a good reason to snitch about weapons. It's hard to shank someone with a cell phone, so it goes un reported.
    • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:19AM (#25872909)

      Many inmates get, and get to keep, whatever they want, (drugs, weapons, phones) via bribed and/or intimidated least a 'blanket' jamer would sidestep the problem. You can't cavity-search all the inmates and staff every 20 minutes...

    • take the words "cell phone" to literally?
  • Don't jail guards and prison official also use cell phones? They might enjoy being able to make a quick call for reinforcements when a riot starts or when someone breaks out.
    • Then using a cell phone rather than a radio would be very unwise.
    • They have systems in place to deal with that.

      Can you imagine if they didn't, you would have the guy who's phone broke for whatever reason on the floor with absolutely no protection. Radios, intercoms, closed circuit TV and all sorts of things are in place. They even have panic switches that they can activate or becomes activated automatically when they fall down (as if attacked).

  • by chiangovitch ( 1371251 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:29AM (#25872309)
    you do NOT get to do whatever you want whenever you want. Those rights were temporarily forfeited upon conviction. Sounds like a good idea to me.
  • why not? (Score:2, Funny)

    After all, they already jammed the phone up someone's asshole to get it into prison.

  • by The Iconoclast ( 24795 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:32AM (#25872355)
    Hopefully movie theaters and restaurants do it next.

    Yes, because if there is one thing that I would wish of my theatre- and restaurant- going experiences, would be that they be more like prison. :P

    • by Sinistar2k ( 225578 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:01AM (#25872671)

      What people want to jam is not cell phones in movie theaters and restaurants. What they want to ban are the people that abuse cell phone use in those environments.

      I mention this because it seems like I'm the one guy that always has to pop into "ban the phones" threads to remind people that some of us use cell phones for emergency purposes and would rather not have to give up eating at local establishments or seeing first-run movies just because not everybody is good enough to put the phone on vibrate and leave the company of others when they get a call.

      So, hopefully movie theaters and restaurants never do it. My wife and I go out very infrequently as it is because of our son's medical needs. I wouldn't want to lose what little opportunity we have to enjoy an evening out.

      • by Neoprofin ( 871029 ) <> on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:28PM (#25873783)
        No kidding.

        If all of these holier than thou smartasses want a good movie watching experience where is the cry to ban children? People with colds? People who breathe too loudly or wear the swishy coats? There are plenty of things that can annoy me when I go to a movie, and cellphones have never been one of them.

        I came to the realization long ago that my absolute guaranteed comfort does not trump the basic day to day existence of other people. While we're at it why don't we ban them is stores so that people can't talk in line, and ban them in public so people don't drive with them. In fact I find other people on cellphones annoying where ever I am, so why not just ban them altogether?

  • Wouldn't it make more sense to just monitor the airwaves in prison than outright block the signals ?

    Setup smaller receivers around the prison that for one, would let officers get the drop on anything inmates try to plan out, surely there's no wiretapping laws in prison considering phones are surely contraband, and for two with a few smaller receivers they could at least triangulate the position down to a cell block and perform a shakedown.

    I'm just worried about what is going to happen when inmates tak
  • Hold on there... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chaboud ( 231590 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:38AM (#25872403) Homepage Journal

    Hopefully movie theaters and restaurants do it next.

    If the problem is the noise or the light from the screens, kick people out for breaking the rules (one warning for light, no warnings for talking, for example), but I really don't want us to make a habit of jamming RF devices. That's a bit like banning alcohol to keep people from driving drunk. What if there's a fire? A crime? A doctor with an emergency who knows how to stand up and walk out when he gets a call?

    Heavy-handed solutions create tons of problems. Ask people to behave like respectful adults and kick them out the moment they fail to do so.

    • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:47AM (#25872513)

      I agree. The issue with a lot of rules (especially rules that aren't laws, such as the ones mentionned above) is that they aren't enforced, and people don't seem to care about enforcing them. If there's a HUGE "No cellphone" sign in the theater, and someone is talking their ass off in front of me during a movie, and I politely (seriously) ask them to be a little more quiet (not even stop!), I get told to fuck off. If there's a no smoking sign in the bus stop's shelter and someone is smoking, and I ask them to take 2 steps outside of it (on a sunny day!), I'll also get told to mind my own business. And with all of these, if I tell the people in CHARGE of enforcing those rules, they'll ignore me.

      Result? People ask for more laws, or for draconian measures, like the grandparent.

  • by rodney dill ( 631059 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:39AM (#25872413) Journal

    Everybody in the whole cell block
    They was jammed' up 'cause the cellphones blocked
  • by Aram Fingal ( 576822 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:40AM (#25872425)
    There's a restaurant in my area which accidentally set up at Faraday Cage [] with the wire mesh used in their stucco exterior. Cell phones don't work inside.

    I suppose with a prison like this they have multiple buildings and the prisoners might have time outside where they could use cell phones. Then, of course, they want their own guard's radios to work.
  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:53AM (#25872569) Homepage Journal

    Cell phones in prisons have been big news in Texas, after a Death Row inmate was stupid enough to make threatening calls to the chairman of the state Senate's Criminal Justice Committee. They're still being found [], weeks after a supposed crackdown that turned up dozens of in-cell cell phones systemwide, along with an inordinate amount of drugs and weapons.

    The Grits For Breakfast [] criminal justice blog has been following the issue closely, asking questions like "Will we see prosecutions of staff who smuggle cell phones in addition to inmates and family members paying for their minutes?" Answer: probably not. Sen. Whitmire, whose family was the target of phoned-in threats from Death Row, summed it up pretty nicely at an emergency Senate hearing on the issue. TDCJ officials promised to implement a plan they'd been working on, to prevent guards from smuggling contraband to prisoners, to which Whitmire responded with a question: Why the hell weren't you doing that already?

    One story mentioned a phone that was only found by an abdominal X-ray. I wonder if it was this little bugger []? Oh, sorry, bad choice of words.

  • by Controlio ( 78666 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:54AM (#25872581)

    "Jamming" is not necessary. Everyone seems to think that blowing out a signal is the only way to get things done. That is way too short-sighted.

    It's easy to install a cell network of your own. Hell, Sprint sells 4-person personal cell towers in their stores in the US. So instead of "jamming" the frequencies, make a localized cell network that simply black-holes the unauthorized calls. This could even be adapted so the ESNs of legitimate users (guards, warden, etc) could be passed through, so everyone is happy.

    Or if you want to go the "Big Brother" route, make a localized network that snoops on all the unauthorized voice and data traffic. Seems like a great way to prove that criminals inside jails with cell phones are actually orchestrating crimes instead of just guessing about it.

  • by flajann ( 658201 ) <[ed.xmg] [ta] [llehctim.derf]> on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:33AM (#25873089) Homepage Journal
    On the cell phone issue I have first hand experience at this. A few years back, sometime after I has pissed off the local police by calling them liars on the front page of the local newspaper (and I had good reason to do this, but that's a story for another time!), they sought every reason to give me hell for years, including anything they could find to arrest me on.

    So they found a nit to arrest me on -- some unpaid fine or some such -- and they were holding me pending release as soon as some friends could bring in the money I owned.

    Alas, Bush was visiting that day and they needed the local police station for security operations. And so everyone they were holding had to be carted off to the state correctional facility. Fun stuff.

    I has asked to use my cell phone so that I could make some calls to those trying to get me out, so that they would know where to go to get me out. It was a mad rush at that police station and many of the cops there looked very distracted and confused. Since I was polite to those who held me behind bars, they granted me this request.

    They were so distracted they forgot they actually gave me my cell phone! Well, I decided to just slip it in my pocket and hang on to it.

    When I arrived at the correctional facility, they knew that myself and the other guys were coming from the local police station, so they did not bother to "pat us down". It was simply a prisoner transfer. We were wearing our civilian clothes when we arrived, and they have this elaborate process of "processing" everyone. So into the waiting room we went. Before they put us in, they made us take off our coats and dump them in piles along a wall on the floor. Fortunately, I had thought to move my cell phone from my pants to my coat pocket en route to the facility, so I dropped my coat with cell phone nicely packed inside.

    The other immates were, for the most part, behaving like civilized people. It was the prison facility that had a lot of bad attitude towards us. Hell, you'd think they were the criminals! There were cameras everywhere, and I noted the position of each and every one of them.

    So, during the process, they put us into those horrid bright-orange jumpsuits, and back into the holding area. They would occasionally allow one or two of us out to make phone calls from the payphone on the wall. Though, you needed a special number to make any calls at all, and they would limit you to a minute or so. And they were very slective about whom they allowed to make phone calls, and not everyone got a chance.

    So, I was allowed out to make a phone call and ask a question or two. After I was done, I watched all the personell and they all looked busy doing things and weren't watching me. I decided, what the hell -- I boldly strode over to where my coat was dumped on the floor, and in one swift move that would make any slight-of-hand magician proud, I swooped down and snatched the cell phone from my coat pocket without anyone noticing! 3 seconds afterwards, I was told to go back to the holding area, and I did.

    I carefully noted the layout of the holding area, which had a very big window so the personell could see us, and there was also a camera. There were about 30 or so of us in that holding area. Ah, but there was a small area near the open toilet that the camera could not see and was not in the view of the guards. Perfect! I went to that area and made a couple of phone calls to those outside to tell them how to access my bank accounts to get the money to get me out of jail! Perfect!

    Of course, other innmates noticed I had a cell phone, and immediatly I was "everyone's friend". They all began asking me if they could borrow my cell to call a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. I was so moved by this I lent them this. I had them all stand, one at a time, in that same "sweet spot" whilst others stood watch.

    Not one single person called to make a drug deal. Not one single person called to make a hit order. ALL called family, friends, loved ones, and the like. T

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain