Prisons in the Communications Age
Prisons are meant to isolate criminals from society for the term of their sentence, this task became more complicated with the mainstream adoption of cell phones in the 90s. Cell phones can be easily hidden and used to circumvent wardens’ control over incoming and outgoing communications. Cell phone smuggling quickly became common contraband in prison yards around the world, as described in this 2010 FBI publication. The practice has become so widespread journalists claim this tiny phone was even being pitched specifically to prisoners for its ease of smuggling. Sources agree that the key sources for smuggled phones are the wardens, which too often make side income selling contraband to prisoners, however, high profile captured mobile phone smuggling attempts have included drones and even political figures.
Cell phones smuggled into prisons are used for things ranging from continuing to run criminal operations, managing businesses outside the prison, or even running a moderately successful Tik Tok channel. Of course, most prisoners are not CEOs, criminal masterminds, or amateur videographers; for most prisoners, cell phones are a connection to family and friends on the outside. Moreover, it is hard to lump all smuggled phone activities as immoral, as cell phones have helped uncover prisoner abuse and maintain access to the outside world during this pandemic while they cannot receive visits or access legal help. The center of calls to allow cell phone usage in prisons is the UK, where NGOs have promoted the idea that allowing access to personal cell phones is the most effective measure for cutting down illegal cell phone smuggling. This has even led the Scottish to provide prisoners with cell phones under a variety of restrictions. A recent Forbes article has even asked whether cell phones will be “the downfall of the prison system” debating whether it was impossible to prevent their use in prisons and their effectiveness in combatting human rights violations and abuse.
Whatever the future policies on mobile phone ownership during incarceration might be, the past demonstrates that access will still need to be controlled and monitored. As this 2018 article details smuggled prions phones are used for a variety of criminal activities including ordering hits on the policemen involved in prisoners’ capture or continuing criminal activities. Simply jamming cellular services to all or part of the prison isn’t a viable solution as laid out in this comprehensive Security Magazine article, as well as presenting a risk to guards who may need to communicate distress using mobile phone in a crisis event. The answer is therefore a multilayered approach allowing approved phones external access while identifying and locating (or possibly even subverting) contraband cell phone signals.
Thankfully, Septier has already developed a system for just this kind of environment, allowing the registration of allowed phones and blocking subversion of other signal sources, as well as the location of such contraband. If you would like to learn more about Septier’s Managed Access solutions, please feel free to reach out to us for promotional materials or a consultation.