If the phone is unauthorized, it doesn’t work inside the prison walls.
Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said that the managed access system is being tested at both McConnell and Stiles prison units.
“It is different from jamming,” Clark said. “Jamming is prohibited by the FCC.”
The Federal Communications Commission has strict rules which prohibit telephone jamming, largely to prevent any emergency and 911 calls from being blocked.
To abide by these rules and still accomplish their goals, officials had to come up with a system that would block illegal cell phones but would not jam legitimate calls made from legitimate callers.
The system is simple in concept.
Any cell phone not on an approved list cannot get a signal.
“Those that aren’t approved, it essentially goes to a dead end.”
Same goes for text messages and Internet access, except with these, there is an added feature.
Those are diverted to a central location and never make their intended recipient.
“It does have the ability to block emails and texts and other ways to log onto the Internet,” Clark said.
The system can also identify a general location of the phone.
“The technology doesn’t give you the pinpoint location, but it will give you an idea of where that cell phone is,” Clark said.
These two prisons were selected as trial sites because they had the highest number of contraband phones found.
Seventy-three phones were found at McConnell last year. The prior year, 88 phones were discovered.
The agency has made considerable strides in stopping the flow of contraband cell phones into prisons in recent years. In 2009, TDCJ staff statewide seized 1,110 contraband cell phones that had made it in to the offender population. They seized 791 in 2010, 630 in 2011 and 738 in 2012.
TDCJ officials say that no single tool will completely solve the issue of contraband cell phones. “The managed access system is another means at our disposal. We will continue to look to technology, combined with our other security measures, as a way to enhance the safety and security of institutions across the state of Texas,” said Brad Livingston, TDCJ executive director.
“Contraband can pose a direct threat to the safety and security of the institution,” Clark said.
“I read of an instance where a South Carolina offender used a cell phone to plan a hit on a correctional officer, and he was shot at his home,” Clark said.
Five years ago in Texas, a death row inmate made threatening calls to a state senator, prompting an unprecedented governor-ordered lockdown of the entire 150,000-inmate prison system to sweep for contraband.
Just recently, three local residents were named among 32 people, including 17 correctional officers from the McConnell Unit prison, indicted on federal charges that range from selling drugs within the prison to smuggling phones for gang members.
Beeville residents indicted were Stephanie Deming, 23, Lela Ysolde Hinojosa, 51, and Arturo Salas, 22. Also indicted was Jamar Tremayne Green, 29, of Refugio.
According to the indictment, on Oct. 28, 2009, Deming, while a correctional officer, accepted or agreed to accept cash from an inmate in exchange for a cell phone.
She, along with another officer, Megan Brook Morales, also were accused of possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine between September and October 2009.
This indictment also accused Hinojosa, while a correctional officer, of accepting or agreeing to accept cash twice from an inmate in exchange for a cell phone in 2009.
The indictment added that in January 2011, Salas, inmate Christopher Owens and a third unidentified person conspired to distribute marijuana. The indictment noted that Salas, as a correction officer, also provided Owens with an unidentified controlled substance.
Clark said that prison officials had been looking at testing this equipment long before the indictments were handed down.
“By deploying this technology, there will be no incentive to smuggle in a cell phone,” Clark said.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.