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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