Somebody has been posting Richard Tabler's letters from prison online and in one of them written in June (no longer on the site), amidst complaints that his mother and sister are being prosecuted for helping him get a cell phone, he issued yet another veiled threat to the family of the Senate Dean, wondering ominously about the wellbeing of Whitmire's ex-wife.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. Dumb to write it, dumb for authorities to let it out of the prison walls, and dumb for whoever is posting Tabler's letters to publish it. The result was another round of media hype and likely even more prosecutorial zeal aimed at his family, as opposed to, say, the prison guards smuggling phones onto death row.
Whitmire and US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison have suggested installing cell phone jammers in state prisons, but that would require an act of Congress and has raised hackles among electronic consumer advocates and first responders who fear interference with emergency frequencies.
During this debate, several observers have suggested cell-phone locators instead of jammers, so I was interested to see this story about a demonstration last week of cell-phone tracking technology in a Maryland prison:
The technology tested Thursday is designed to enable corrections officials to locate and root out contraband cell phones. It differs from cell phone jamming devices that would block signals and render cell phones useless in prison. Federal law now prohibits states from using the jamming devices, and legislation in Congress would change the law to allow states to use them.
The detection equipment demonstrated Thursday by five of the six vendors would not require a change in the law, because their equipment doesn’t interfere with signals. The Federal Communications Commission granted a two-day license to one of the companies, Tecore Networks, because its technology cuts off an unauthorized cell phone call made from within a prison.
“If we can find a way to keep cell phones from being used from within the walls of our prisons to carry out criminal enterprises outside of prisons, I’m for whatever works, so we’ll see,” Gov. Martin O’Malley, who backs the cell phone jamming legislation in Congress, said Thursday.
Maryland has also requested a cell phone jamming demonstration at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in downtown Baltimore, but the state is still waiting for federal permission to hold it.
Notably, the detection equipment can be implemented right now with no change in the law or permission from anyone. Perhaps the FCC will even grant a waiver to cut off unauthorized calls. Without that capability, the tactic would be much more staff intensive. Still, if it's a priority, it'd be technologically possible to identify and chase down unauthorized cell phone users without blocking legitimate communications.
Either way, TDCJ could implement cell phone locator technology relatively quickly if it can find the funding. Maybe some of the money approved this spring for contraband prevention could be used for that - at least as a pilot on death row. Then there'd be no need to wait for an act of Congress or hammer out user agreements with neighboring entities that may legitimately need to circumvent prison jamming systems.
MORE: From the Statesman, "Prison chief: Slip-up in monitoring Tabler mail."