Mississippi arrests cell phone use in prison without jamming signals

Access control system stops calls apparently without violating federal law

Mississippi State Penitentiary officials appear to have taken a big step toward solving the problem of cell phone use within prisons without violating federal law against jamming radio signals.

Earlier this month, the state’s Department of Corrections announced it had signed an agreement with Global Tel Link and Tecore Networks to immobilize illegal cell phones used by inmates at the state penitentiary in Parchman, according to an Associated Press report in the Kansas City Star.

The systems employs radio frequencies to intercept unauthorized transmissions, but allows authorized and 911 calls to go through.

More than 216,320 texts and cellular phone calls have been blocked from being delivered inside Parchman since Aug. 6, according to a report in the Clarion Ledger in Mississippi. 
Amit Malhotra, marketing vice president for Tecore, told AP that the system checks all calls before blocking or allowing them.

"Any cell phones brought in register with our system before they go out to the tower of the commercial cell carriers," he said. "It will go through our system first and go through the database and see if it's an authorized phone. If it is, it'll be sent out to complete the call, but if it's not, it'll be held by our system."

The system amounts to access control, rather than the jamming of signals, which is something prison officials have asked for but so far been denied. A 1934 law forbids anyone but federal agencies from jamming public airwaves.

"The difference between jamming and our system is that our system does not prevent all communications, just unauthorized ones," Malhotra told AP. " We have to have agreements with carriers in order to do this. Because the carriers support us, the [federal Communications Commission] supports us as well."

Use of cell phones in prisons has been a problem for some time, with reports of cells phones being used to coordinate escapes and, in at least one case, order a hit on a witness.

Last year, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley petitioned the federal government to let the state test jamming technology in a state prison.
And this month, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford again asked the FCC to act on the state’s 2-year-old request to let the state jam cell phone signals in its prisons.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Oct 1, 2010 Troy

Your arguement doesn't hold water. I was on a rescue squad for 12 years and I know our radio frequencies were not anywhere near the blocked/selected frequency range in question. For good measure, I checked the MS area and they were using frequencies in the 140 and 150 FM range, far from a cell phone frequency ranges. Also, if I am wrong, it would be a simple matter to a) program the system to allow the rescue squad devices to pass traffic unhindered, b) give the first responders devices that are allowed on the system when they arrive, c) paramedics have the training and ability to use anything on the ambulance without talking to a hospital. We contact the hospitals to give them a heads up that we are on the way and what type of patient we are bringing in so they can have a bed prepared, and if needed, be ready for a serious emergecy, and usually call the ER when we are 5-10 minutes out from the ER.

Tue, Sep 28, 2010

'Passive blocking' not only stops cellphones, but it also blocks first responder communications. Do you really want the paramedics to NOT be able to talk to the hospital while you're having a hear attack? And in a growing number of communities, there is a code requirement that first responder radio signals be AMPLIFIED within large structures to assure coverage.

Tue, Sep 28, 2010

Uh, passive blocking via a Faraday cage does NOT count as 'jamming'. Theaters and restaurants are starting to do it. FCC only cares about active jamming. If your countermeasures are RF-silent, you can pretty much do whatever you want.AFAIK, no CONUS DoD bases or civilian courthouses/prisons do active jamming. Only one I have heard of is SWAT tems doing it on raids.

Mon, Sep 27, 2010 LeftoverTech

DoD installations and federal courthouses are ALLOWED to jam cell traffic because they are a federal govt agencies. FEDERAL prisons can jam cell traffic. The problem is that OTHER PRISONS cannot legally do so. Wardens of these other institutions try their damndest to prevent cell phones from coming in, just as they do with drugs, weapons, etc. Why would you NOT want the prison to control cell phone traffic within its walls?

Mon, Sep 27, 2010

I wonder how many of the 216,320 blocked calls were from farmer's cell phones located outside the facility's perimeter.

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