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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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  • 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.

  • 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 YouWantFriesWithThat ( 1123591 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:12AM (#25872801)
    no it couldn't. have you looked at cell phone jamming technology at all? these are not complex, computer-driven, or selective. it would not be able to switch on and off depending on the phone number dialed. they broadcast white noise at the necessary frequencies to keep cellphones from being able to communicate with a tower. it is the wireless equivalent of screaming loudly to keep someone else from having a successful conversation.
  • 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...

  • by Achromatic1978 ( 916097 ) < minus berry> on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:25AM (#25872983)

    The cinema's phone blocker could easily detect 911 calls and turn off the the blocking if it detected one.

    No, they couldn't. Phone blockers don't magically decrypt the GSM/CDMA radio stream and parse it for a calling number.

  • 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.

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

    by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:49AM (#25873261) Homepage Journal
    Anyone who has studied the eye will be quite aware that the peripheral vision is far more sensitive to changes in light, while the focused vision is more sensitive to color. There are many more "rods" in the eye, about 120 million, than cones, but the rods are not sensitive to color. They are sensitive to light. The cones are sensitive to color, but are mostly clustered in the focal area. An interesting experiment to perform is to set up a dimly flashing light in a dark room and just allow your peripheral vision to pick it up. It will appear to be brightly flashing. However, if you then look directly at it, the flash will not appear anywhere near as bright.
    So yes, the light from cell phones in the movie theatre would be very distracting in your peripheral vision.
  • by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:56AM (#25873343) Homepage

    Modern prisons (especially lower security ones) aren't built like they used to be, where every prisoner is in a cell by themselves or with a single roommate. Oftentimes there are dormitory-like conditions where a dozen or so inmates are in a room together. In addition, there are frequently common-areas (other than the cafeteria) when inmates are gathered in groups. These types of situations make it easier for inmates to hide contraband, especially where other inmates have an interest in assisting or at least no interest in actively preventing it. Add to this modern construction techniques (drop ceilings in a prison? WTF?) and you're asking for trouble.

    You can argue all day long about whether sentences are supposed to be punitive or rehabilitative, but the current situation (with regards to prison rape, drug use, and other contraband) is a direct result of these modern innovations (dorms, common areas, etc.)

    An ideal prison (IMO) would be more like Alcatraz, where each individual prisoner was kept in an separate, concrete block cell. I think if you had this kind of control, you'd be more able to do rehabilitative things (like provide access to computers, etc) whereas now the risks are too high.

    Of course, that kind of facility wouldn't be cheap, and since we're running so many prisons I don't see it happening.

  • 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 BaronHethorSamedi ( 970820 ) <> on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:41PM (#25873943)

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

    An inmate's personal liberties are restricted in several ways. One of those restrictions is that, while you can talk on the phone in prison, you're not allowed to do so without the prison listening in. There are lots of good reasons for this. Prisoners who know they're being listened to are unlikely to place phone calls to do things like intimidate witnesses, arrange for perjured testimony, and so forth. This can be especially important where the prisoners are gangsters; an incarcerated gang member with a discreet line to the outside can conduct business as usual through contacts outside the prison.

    Cell phones are generally confiscated when they're discovered. Listening in might be feasible, but it's done already through the prison phones to which the inmates are generally restricted. While it's possible to set up wireless listening stations, prison resources are limited. I suspect it's easier just to jam all wireless signals, period, than to set up a station keyed to listed only to signals originating from within the prison walls.

  • Re:Waaaaaa!!! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bender0x7D1 ( 536254 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:56PM (#25874137)

    Copyright infringement is a civil offense, not a criminal one.

    Which part of:

    Remember, the RIAA wants jail time for college file sharers.

    wasn't clear?

  • Re:Waaaaaa!!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by bugg ( 65930 ) * on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:04PM (#25874261) Homepage

    State prisons held a total of 1,274,600 inmates on all charges at yearend 2004. In absolute numbers an estimated 633,700 inmates in State prison at yearend 2004 (the latest year for which offense data is available) were held for violent offenses: 151,500 for murder, 178,900 for robbery, 129,400 for assault, and 153,800 for rape and other sexual assaults. In addition, 265,600 inmates were held for property offenses, 249,400 for drug offenses, and 88,900 for public-order offenses.

    Source: Sabol, William J., PhD, Couture, Heather, and Harrison, Paige M., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2007), NCJ219416, p. 24, Appendix Table 9.

    1.2 million people in state prisons, .6 million in for violent offenses, and you'll see that it's around half.

    Federal prisons were estimated to hold 176,268 sentenced inmates as of Sept. 30, 2006. Of these, 16,507 were incarcerated for violent offenses, including 2,923 for homicide, 9,645 for robbery, and 3,939 for other violent crimes. In addition, 10,015 inmates were serving time for property crimes, including 519 for burglary, 6,437 for fraud, and 3,059 for other property offenses. A total of 93,751 were incarcerated for drug offenses. Also, 54,336 were incarcerated for public-order offenses, incluging 19,496 for immigration offenses and 24,298 for weapons offenses.

    Source: Sabol, William J., PhD, Couture, Heather, and Harrison, Paige M., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2007), NCJ219416, p. 26, Appendix Table 13.

    These facts and others at []

    176k people in federal prison, 16k for violent offenses, and it's about 90% of the people who are in for non-violent offenses.

    It's also very trivial to get charged with a violent offense, the sad reality is. Often police add on resisting arrest/misdemeanor assault on a police officer (in at least one jurisdiction I've lived in - DC - the crimes are the same) to just about any arrest where the person made any attempt at all to get away.

    The ridiculous prison industrial system that exists also creates a culture where violence makes more sense. If you're risking going to prison for decades, life, or more, for a nonviolent offense, you might as well use violence to get away. After all, if you aren't rich enough to afford a lawyer, being a good person - or even being innocent - might not keep you out of prison.

  • Re:Mobile phones (Score:3, Informative)

    by profplump ( 309017 ) <> on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:57PM (#25874977)

    No, you shouldn't use your peripheral vision to see more detail in any situation. The data density from the center of your eye is significantly higher than at any other point. The intensity sensitivity of your eye is greater outside the center -- you are able to detect smaller amounts of light -- but with significantly less detail.

    So if you're goal is "detect dim objects" then peripheral vision is the way to go. But if your goal in "increased detail" you should stick with the center of your eye and just buy a telescope big enough so you can see the dim objects directly.

    And on a related note, you do have a small blind spot at the center of your eye where the optic nerve is attached, so in non-binocular, fixed-gaze viewing (like you would do with a telescope) it is important to avoid this particular spot. But your blind spot is pretty small, so you can still use the high-density portions of your eye near the center without a problem.

  • by Have Brain Will Rent ( 1031664 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:29PM (#25875379)
    A long time ago I saw a TV documentary on military prisons. It included interviews with the prisoners. The military prisons didn't seem to have any of the problems that plague civilian prisons. Maybe it had something to do with all the prison personal being trained soldiers but I also remember one of the prisoners saying "we're just too tired to cause problems."
  • Re:Mobile phones (Score:3, Informative)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:49PM (#25876439) Journal
    Oh you should try Arkansas, because we got that beat. Not only do you get the loud ethnic women yelling at the screen AND yakking away to her girlfriend,but add to that her setting off her damned cell phone's flash so she can snap a shot of her new shoes or the dude she is with and then ADD to that the fact that more than half the audience have the most loud, obnoxious, ghetto ring tones you have ever heard and their phones go off about every 2 minutes. I too have long since given up on movie theaters thanks to cell phones. The invention of the cell phone pretty much was the death of the movie theater experience for me. Now I only go to late night fare like "Rocky Horror" where you expect everyone to be loud and wild.
  • by antispam_ben ( 591349 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @07:47PM (#25879277) Journal

    The reason one of every hundred US citizens is in prison is MOSTLY due to the War On Drugs. Furthermore, drug offendors get "good behavior points" toward earlier release for attending religious (not just "spiritual") 12-step based groups in prison, clearly against the First Amendment [] (even those on death row are guaranteed freedom of religion, yet many are required to attend Alcoholics Aonymous and other groups [] by Government agents), yet the ACLU wants every prisoner to have access an electrical power outlet.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson