Although prisons try to detect and confiscate contraband mobile devices, their efforts have so far been futile. The devices get smuggled into the prison by visitors and guards as well as simply thrown over the prison walls. “Almost everybody has a phone,” a 33-year-old prisoner in Georgia told the Times. “Almost every phone is a smartphone. Almost everybody with a smartphone has a Facebook.”
While cell phone detection and jamming have been offered as solutions, the Times reports that Mississippi has deployed a system that may be a game changer. (For more on the controversy over cell phone jamming in prisons, see "Hearing Weighs Pros and Cons of Cell Phone Jamming Inside Prisons.")
Called managed access, the system establishes a network around a prison that detects every call and text. Callers using cellphones that are not on an approved list receive a message saying the device is illegal and will no longer function.
At the Mississippi State Penitentiary, which houses about 3,000 inmates, 643,388 calls and texts going in and out were intercepted from July 31 to Dec. 1, 2010. The system was so successful that Mississippi is installing it at the state’s two other penitentiaries.
This summer Congress tried to create a legal deterrent to smuggled devices inside U.S. prisons, which was signed by President Obama in August. Under the Cell Phone Contraband Act (.pdf), prisoners caught with a contraband phone or wireless device can have a year tacked onto their sentence.
Photo of smartphones by Honou/Flickr