Thursday, April 19, 2012

Selected cell-phone jamming may boost prison phone revenue

With the feds seemingly unlikely to approve comprehensive cell phone jamming in prisons anytime soon, Texas is considering a different technology that selectively blocks non-approved numbers, which seems like a much more reasonable and effective approach. Reports the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward, "Instead of jamming cellphone calls around prisons as Texas officials had earlier proposed, the California system would block outgoing cell calls, Web access and text messages by managing the cellphone signals at prisons — and allowing only signals from approved numbers to go through."

In California, the prison phone service provider paid for the new equipment because of massive lost revenue from unused pay phones, and the new technology supposedly has turned that dynamic around:
Efforts to curb cellphone smuggling into prisons have come up short, even though the state has spent millions of dollars on screening devices, surveillance cameras, detection devices and even phone-sniffing dogs.

[TDCJ spokesman Jason] Clark said Texas prison employees last year seized 904 cellphones in prisons or headed there, down from 1,480 three years ago. Prison officials attribute the decline to $60 million in security upgrades.

By contrast, California last year confiscated 15,000 cellphones at its 33 prisons. That's up from just 1,200 five years ago, according to officials.

Dana Simas, an information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that under a new contract, Global Tel Link has agreed to spend as much as $35 million to install new equipment at each prison within the next three years. The first California unit is to get the gear by October, she said.

The company will pay all costs, Simas said, because it will get the revenue from the pay phones inside prisons that will once again be in demand.

The way the new system works: Each prison will get its own cell tower that will allow prison officials to control all incoming and outgoing calls. All others will not go through.

"After this system goes in, smuggled cellphones will be nothing more than glorified paperweights," Simas said. "A couple of years ago, there were long lines at the pay phones — hours long. By this year, no one was using them, there were so many smuggled cellphones."


Charlie O said...

Let me make sure I've got this correct. This impetus for blocking cell phones is not because of security, but rather because someone is not getting their money from inmates or inmates' families pockets? Wow. The free market at its finest.

Anonymous said...

Global Tel Link is notorious for ripping off inmates' families. They'd never get away with screwing them so if they had any clout.

sunray's wench said...

Those who currently use the cell phones do so because they do not want their conversations monitored. They are not automatically going to switch to the payphone system.

The way to increase revenue is to increase the monthly minute allowance and permit calls to overseas numbers and cell phones. Other states do it - California does it!

RSO wife said...

To sun ray's wench - The pay phones are monitored and conversations are recorded. Inmates can only call approved numbers and those numbers can only be accessed by a voice recognition system, which a lot of the time doesn't work correctly.

Not sure how much of the revenue goes to the state, but J-Pay sure makes money on those calls.

coleensanleon said...

Sunray's Wench is 100% right on the money!

I have incarcerated loved ones and would gladly increase my phone spending triple if TDC would increase the 240 minute limit. I hear that they have the authorization to do so. I just don't understand why they choose not to? As a taxpayer I would love to see them take action towards increasing revenues.

If California's phone vendor can convince them that their current cell calls will be made on payphones, then CA is obviously not paying attention. Well, they did let in thousands of cell phones.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, unlimited talk time (and text) on a cell phone, even if monitored is far more appealing than standing at a pay phone talking in the middle of a dayroom and much cheaper once you figure in the added cost of maintaining the home phone and the bill for the provider of the calls. A monthly unlimited cell phone bill is $50, unlimited. A monthly land line is ~$35 plus $67 for the 240 minutes a month. The cost is doubled and your time is limited.

But the real reason for my comment...isn't this just another way of jamming?? If you are blocking calls from unapproved numbers then is that not jamming? I would think that would still violate the FCC rules.

Phillip Baker said...

TDCJ piously claims to try to keep inmates' family ties intact by housing them closest to their home, through visitation, and by making phones available. Truth is that proximity to family seems to play no part in Classification's unit assignments. Visitation is only on weekends, lasts only 2 hours, and requires all visitors to an inmate share those 2 hours. It took us 2 1/2 years of pushing to get a phone put in on the male side of the Young Medical Complex, where many inmates are very sick, several dies each week. Yet even dying men could not call home one last time. Why the deep resistance to having phones there? And the fact that TDCJ chooses to make a profit on phone calls is obscene. They already sell highly marked up commissary items. You cannot send writing and letter supplies like many states- have to be bought at commissary. With today's technology it is only a lack of imagination that prevents setting up a system for these calls that would be secure and all but free. But that would deprive TDCJ of its profits.

Anonymous said...

They need to use the same contractors to build prisons that built Randall's and Kroger's.
My cell never works on those supermarkets.

Thomas Denney said...

Loved ones and friends of inmates have been raped for years by the $!.00 per minute phone companies (my experience). The State has no right to expect free cell phone call disruption services, the cost for which will surely be added to the cost of the calls.

BTW, how much kick back are the prisons already getting back from these phone companies??!!! To me that is not a legitimate state revenue source.

Anonymous said...

Phillip - You actually can buy writing material for inmates. You have to go to an approved vendor, but you can buy paper and envelopes, as well as books, calendars and notepads, etc. There a few like notesandnovels, rosiesgraphics, inmatepaper that you can buy from. They only sell approved items.