Monday, July 13, 2009

Hutchison seeks cell phone jamming authorization

The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this week is taking up a bill by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to allow cell phone jamming in state prisons, according to a press release received via email from state Sen. John Whitmire's office:
At the request of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) will be in Washington, D.C. this week to express his support of Senator Hutchison's legislation allowing the jamming of cell phone signals within prison facilities.

In October, 2008, Senator Whitmire received numerous calls from a Texas death row inmate. The inmate had access to a cell phone which was shared with other inmates and used to make over 2,800 calls in less than a month. The following investigation resulted in a statewide prison lock-down, the discovery of hundreds of cell phones, and the indictment of the inmate and his mother and sister who helped provide the phone.

"Unfortunately, it took a death row inmate calling a State Senator to bring the issue to light and to force the prison system in Texas to recognize and begin to address the problem of contraband in our prisons," stated Senator Whitmire.

Senator Whitmire is scheduled to appear at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, July 15th before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation chaired by Senator Rockefeller. Also invited to testify are Steve Largent, head of the CTIA Wireless Association; Gary Maynard, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; and John Moriarty, Inspector General of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

MORE: See a blog post critical of the cell phone jamming bill, and also a letter to Senators Hutchison and Rockefeller opposing the bill from the public interest group Public Knowledge. PK makes the argument that public safety responders could be affected, and also suggests jamming signals in prison may lead to a slippery slope: "The introduction of legal cell phone jamming places this entire system at risk. History has shown that permitting the legal manufacture and sale of devices even for limited purposes will inevitably result in their becoming available on a mass consumer basis. For example, the use of wireless microphones in the broadcast bands is limited by FCC rule to a small number of licensed users and – in theory – strictly controlled to avoid possible interference with television viewing and other uses of the band."

AND MORE: See coverage from the Houston Chronicle.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

How far will they jam the signal?
I know a lot of guards stay just outside the fence for days at a time, it would make it a lot tougher if they could not use their phones.

Andres Morin III said...

Senator Whitmire needs to address the REAL problems concerning the cell phone issue. If the inmates were allowed to call home more often, cell phones wouldn't be as big a contraband item as they currently are. I have a real problem believing he feared for his safety or even his life.......this prisoner being locked up in SUPER SECURE DEATH ROW!! If the prisoner wanted to call a hit man to bump him off, he would have done it never calling the senator to warn him. Senator Whitmire needs to address the problem of why this prisoner wanted to talk to him. My feeling is that when you are not doing right by people, you are going to do your best to avoid their questions. Shame on YOU Whitmire!!

Red Leatherman said...

I believe that generous access to phones should be allowed. Denton county jail allows virtually unlimited calling during most of the day. I'm sure a lot of other counties are the same. it doesn't seem to cause any problems. why is tdcj so worried about letting an inmate use a phone more than once every 2 or 3 months?

If they end up using cell phone jamming techniques I suppose that Guards can still use the 2 way radios. just got to remember to let up on the button thingy to listen.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever been tried and convicted of ordering a hit on anybody with a cell phone from inside a Texas prison? Really, anybody know?

I'm sure the Senator had a rough couple of days but there are plenty of people who feel threatened inside of prison due to lack of COs, including the COs, everyday. And do I even need to mention the peril if one happens to become ill in prison.

But I did notice that when it was his ass on the line he had Brad shaking in his boots and something is being done about it in record time.

I mean it's fine with me if they jam cell phones. And I am truly sorry that it happened. I just hope that once it's done some other problems will get the speedy and dogged attention they deserve as well.

Anonymous said...

Prohibition always creates a black market. No doubt if a person is on death row they have committed a very serious offense against society and should be in a highly controlled environment. Many inmates are on death row for 10 to 20 years. A few of them have been found to not guilty of the crime that placed them on death row. Communication to the outside world under controlled systems would go a long way to keeping behavior easier to maintain and kill incentive for contraband cell phones. Having worked with criminal offenders I have seen the miracle a simple call home can make when dealing with inmates. We need to stop the get tough - kick ass attitude and move on to what gets desired results. Most often what gets results is treating others as we would want to be treated. Doing right by others most people don't care for works just as well as doing right by good people. Isn't it funny how easy it is for us humans to be such self righteous asses (me included unless I put my brain in gear)!

My first statement - Prohibition always creates a black market is easily proved by looking at the prohibition on guns, drugs, prostitution, and alcohol. Obama's recent stance on guns created the largest sale of guns and ammo seen in this country. Prohibition of alcohol was a bust and financed the creation of organized crime in the U.S. There is a massive black market in guns in New York due to their gun laws. The war on drugs is a costly failure of the first order. Our prisons are full and people are dying daily because of the war on drugs.

An additional though on guns - don't make guns illegal; make the misuse of a gun illegal. We don't really need the endless gun laws we have today. In most cases if you harm someone with a gun or other deadly weapon laws exist to deal with that person. If I were not so old as to remember when we drove around with shot guns and rifles hanging in the gun rack of our trucks for all to see and how we didn't have to lock our doors, I might buy into the gun control crap you hear today.

I guess I have strayed off topic. I hope Grits will forgive an old guy for wandering down memory lane. A friend's wife who died last year used to tell me I am always trying to live in the past. I was a lot safer back in the past before the lawmakers took it on themselves to lookout for my safety. I just don't think we need more new laws against things.

I guess I will go sit on the swing and watch the cars go by and think about how simple life was on the farm. I wish I could go back.

Anonymous said...

AMEN - 5:49

whitsfoe said...

What I want to know is just how a death row inmate could get so much information on Sen. Whitmire? It seems to me that a man of his caliber would have information such as his daughters address, his cell phone number, and so forth very well protected. That's the part that's scary. I know they'd have access to his office phone, but his daughters name and address? If that was true, that's scary man.

JSN said...

It seems to me that cell phone detectors are a much better option than cell phone jammers for prisons and jails.

Anonymous said...

Are we going to pay for this too?

Anonymous said...

I think this might be where the Inmate Trust Fund "gift tax" is going 8:52. I've also been alerted that DPS is setting up roadblocks in order to steal candy from babies, which they will resale at the prison commissary for a 1000% mark-up. Did I mention the new plan to furnish the inmates shoes but with no shoestrings? Those will now cost the family $500.00 EACH.

Charlie O said...

How about they prosecute the TDCJ EMPLOYEES who brought the cell phones in. How else would a death row inmate get a cellphone? Will the jamming extend out the parking lot? I use my cellphone regularly in the parking lot before entering and right after leaving Lane Murray. I think this a red herring. Much ado about nothing. Another invented problem by law enforcement.

Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately, it took a death row inmate calling a State Senator to bring the issue to light and to force the prison system in Texas to recognize and begin to address the problem of contraband in our prisons," stated Senator Whitmire.

Why IS that Senator? Perhaps, that is a more prudent question to be asking and one that deserves more of your attention.

Mr. Anxiety said...

Sounds like more unnecessary legislation to me. JSN's idea might work.

jimbino said...

Jamming of cellphones is not needed in prisons. All that is needed is a "faraday cage" consisting of continuous copper screening embedded in the floor, ceiling and walls of the cell block. We radio engineers use such cages to test our radio devices that are under development, so as not to broadcast the signals and interfere with external communications.

If the cage is properly grounded, no radio signals can get in or out, and even if not grounded, no radio signals can get in.

Where radio signals are to be allowed in a cell block, such as for TV, cables or special phone booths could be provided that connect to the outside world, of course.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jimbino, I don't think they can retrofit 112 prisons as Faraday cages.

If there is cell phone detection technology out there as JSN proposed, however, that idea makes a lot of sense.

I'm personally ambivalent about jamming and don't have strong feelings either way. I don't mind cell phoen jamming in prisons if they can resolve the public safety communications issue, and I don't fear the slippery slope - authorizing jamming in prisons won't automatically mean your local restaurant will be next. However, the bigger contraband issues have to do with staff corruption, and cell phone jamming does nothing to solve that. In that sense, the idea may divert attention from solving the root of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered the health risk to prisoners and staff. Jammers I have seen for cell phones emit a much stronger signal than a cell phone. Many jammers are 75 to 100 times stronger than a cell phone and produce microwave energy in the 800Mhz to 1900 Mhz range. Jammers have to transmit on all cell phone channels at one time thus the signal is broad in frequency range and high in power. Jammers in a prison setting may require additional power since the cell signals do not travel through steel walls or cages very well. Cell jammers could create a major health hazard for any living organism. I see law suits related to cell jammers for tax payers to shell out for down the road. Currently the FCC limits cell phones to 3/10 of a watt at their operating frequency due to health safety issues. How would any of you like to work in a place where you are getting zapped with microwaves 12 hours a day. This reminds me of a documentary about how the Russians beamed microwave energy at the U.S. ambassador's office in Moscow. After the microwave beam started the next 3 ambassadors went home with cancer from Moscow!

I have been licensed by the FCC for the past 42 years. My licenses cover long wave to ship radar. I think we should pass on the jammers due to safety concerns. I am sure the Legislature will not let facts get in the way of what they think is an easy fix. The Federal BOP is working with this company on cell detectors http://www.binjlabs.com/products.html .

Got to go my cell phone is ringing!!!

Boyness said...

The REAL issue is contraband. Period. Oh, and the culture that makes it a HUGE money-making business.

Anonymous said...

The cell phone jammers will cost millions of dollars. They will stop the cell phone traffic as long as they work, but they will fail to stop dangerous communications, which is the problem. The cell phone jammers will not stop dangerous drugs, weapons, tobacco, written messages, verbally passed messages, and other contraband from entering or leaving the prisons. Rogue officials will continue to exist.

The problem with the Texas prison system is rogue officials, not cell phones. Better pay to attract better applicants and screening are the solutions to battle this dangerous issue. John Moriarty uses it to screen his investigators, why not the rest of the prison system?????? Proper background checks and screening works.

Recently a Federal judge received a death threat in the mail that was written by a Texas inmate and mailed out by a Texas prison guard. The guard was manipulated into mailing the message from an outside post office, not knowing what it was. Texas needs to do psychological / personality screening before hiring people to work in this atmosphere. Some people hired on by TDCJ have no business working around and securing dangerous felons.

Jammers are a waste of money. The state legislature needs to address the real problem, because its not going away by buying some electronic junk.

I think the post by Anon 4:13 may be an issue. I can see where high power microwave signals are a major health issue.

cell phone jammer said...

The guards is a problem the system has to overcome. But I'm sure a profesional system can do the job. The fact of the matter remains that America has to put a stop to what inmates do with cell phones and if that means blocking cell phones in prison - so be it!

The Law Offices of Philip C. Banks said...

The misuse of technology is always an issue. It would be better to place careful monitoring and intelligence in the loop than a broad sweeping technological solution.

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