Prisons face a growing problem of cell phone usage among inmates with 2,000-3,000 handsets being confiscated each year in some facilities. A variety of means allows inmates to obtain handsets which are then used from within prison to arrange for drug deals, organize gang activity and even order hits on prison staff members and their families. The phones are not allowed in prison, but prisoners manage to obtain them and use them covertly.
One hindrance to stopping illegal cell phone activity from within prisons is an FCC regulation that prevents the use of jamming technology. The most cost-effective way to control cell phone usage would be to blanket the prison with jamming technology to stop outgoing and incoming mobile phone calls. A jamming system would cost about $500,000 to install at each facility. Rather than use this relatively inexpensive and convenient solution, prisons are forced to seek out alternative solutions to get this problem under control.
Mississippi is the first state in the US to install alternative technology to block mobile phone usage from within prison walls. This technology uses a cell phone tower provided by Tecore Networks that is designed to accept calls only from pre-approved numbers. The first tower installed at Parchman Farm prison has blocked 1 million cell phone transmissions which originated from the prison’s 3,200 inmates. Tecore is installing three towers at three different prisons within Mississippi for a total cost of $3 million. This $3 million fee is being waived as these towers are included as part of a larger telecommunications contract the company negotiated with the state.
Other states are considering similar solutions, but budget cutbacks have put these plans on hold. Until the technology can become more affordable, the cat and mouse game between prisoners and inmates over mobile phone usage will continue.