How technology can combat contraband cell phones

Cell Phone Behind Bars

Correctional facilities work hard to catch contraband by trying out new programs and equipment to detect forbidden items before they get into prison. This includes cell phones, which let

Correctional facilities work hard to catch contraband by trying out new programs and equipment to detect forbidden items before they get into prison. This includes cell phones, which let inmates continue to conduct business during their incarceration and even allow them to threaten correctional staff.

Cell phone jamming was once believed to be an appropriate response to contraband cell phones. But cell phone jamming is illegal, according to the Federal Communications Commission. This is because jamming prevents all calls within a certain area, which also can block emergency communications both inside and outside a prison.

A better solutions is managed access, or call capture systems, for a more nuanced approach. But it’s not without its challenges.

What is managed access?
Managed access lets users create a list directory of approved numbers that can send and receive messages based on a geo-location pre-defined by an administrator. When approved numbers are entered into the system, it analyzes the thousands of cellular calls made within a given area each day and approves those that are allowed, according to the FCC.

If the system finds a call that is not on the pre-approved list, the number can be blocked from completing its call.

The system can also prevent text messages and can be programmed to detect SIM cards. So, simply switching the cards from one device to another won’t be enough to avoid the system.

Managed access systems also offer tools such as recording calls to later be used in prosecution.

What are its limitations?
There are still some hurdles to be overcome before managed access can be considered the cure-all for contraband cell phones.

Cellular carriers constantly are tweaking their networks and building new cell towers, which would force prison operators to update and change their managed access system. This costs prisons money and staff time.

Signal strength also is a consideration; if the prison is in a developed area and a carrier’s signal is weak, phones from outside the facility can still connect to those within the prison.

Then there’s staff with pre-approved access to use their own cell phones inside the facility that might let inmates use their phones to make calls.

Source: How technology can combat contraband cell phones

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