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March 25, 2010

Better Detection Devices Help Rid Prisons of Contraband Cells

By Marisa Torrieri, TMCnet Editor

New technology is doing a better job of sniffing out prison inmates who illegally use wireless services.

And with a pending bill in Congress that would stiffen penalties for inmates – as well as those who provide inmates with cell phones – the companies that make cell-detection technology could see a big boost in business.

At least two of them have made great progress.

Metuchen, N.J.-based Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Inc., a provider of advanced wireless products and services for the domestic and international wireless telecommunications industry, last week announced that it has successfully field-tested the Bloodhound cell phone detector at one of the top-10 largest county correctional facilities in the nation.

The Bloodhound (News - Alert)is a handheld, wireless cell phone detector that does not employ the “sledgehammer” approach of cell phone jamming, currently prohibited under U.S. federal law.

BVS conducted the field test at a national correctional facility that houses 1,300 inmates (both men and women) and employs more than 400 security officers as well as administration staff. Security officers and BVS discretely walked the halls of the correctional facility with the Bloodhound cell phone detector to pinpoint in real-time the exact location of contraband cell phones in use.

“The field test was successful as we noted illegal cell phone activity rather quickly,” said Scott Schober (News - Alert), president and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, which is exhibiting the Bloodhound cell phone detector at this week’s CTIA show. “Utilizing the cell phone detector's high-speed scanning receiver and Direction Finding Antenna, the Bloodhound detected cell phone activity in areas where it was strictly forbidden. Surprisingly there were even cell phones detected in the cafeteria, which is prohibited.”

Prior to the release of the Bloodhound cell phone detector, Schober said correctional facilities have had to battle the widespread use of contraband cell phones with specialized K-9 units that are trained to smell the batteries in cell phones. In the state of New Jersey, for example, the cost to purchase a trained dog is $5,000 plus the trainer’s salary for a comprehensive ten-week course the dog and trainer are required to complete by the New Jersey Attorney General. Couple these costs with regular vet and food bills and the solution is costly.

And then there are other problems: Prison inmates make the K-9 units’ job even more challenging by hiding the cell phones in strong smelling foods such as peanut butter, Schober said. 

“BVS has sold a significant number of Bloodhound cell phone detectors to federal and state correctional facilities and numerous government agencies since its release on December 14, 2009. Of the hundreds of correctional facilities that have contacted BVS, the majority are frustrated with the number of cell phones that continually make their way behind bars and are desperate for a solution like BVS’ cell phone detector,” added Schober. “According to some correctional officers, cell phones are smuggled in through criminal defense lawyers, family members, food service staff, maintenance contractors and even corrupt security guards looking to make some extra cash.”

BVS has some competition in this market.

Another company, CellAntenna, which dubs itself “experts in jamming and boosting cell phone signals,” recently introduced affordably priced cell phone detection products with local government and detention facilities in mind.

As part of its Cell Phone (News - Alert) Threat Management portfolio, CellAntenna announced last week that it is providing three legal, simple and cost-effective cell phone detection solutions designed to satisfy the needs of smaller, local facilities.

The devices include CJAM DT 1000, a larger portable unit with a range of approximately 40,000 square feet; and CJAM DT, a detector kit that includes a turnkey system with a wall-mounted detector and remote antennas.

“It doesn't matter if inmates are doing time in San Quentin or the county jail. When they have access to illegal cell phones, there is a very real threat to those inside and outside the prison walls,” said Howard Melamed, president and CEO, CellAntenna Corporation, in a press release. “We understand that local agencies need to address the same public safety issue of contraband cell phones that larger correctional facilities have, but with a very tight budget. Finally there is a weapon to stop cell phone calls from prisons that can be counted on.”

And as technology gets more sophisticated, companies like CellAntenna and BVS can rest assured that legislators are on their side.

Recently CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent (News - Alert) issued a statement in support of the Cell Phone Contraband Act of 2009 (S. 1749), urging the Senate to stiffen penalties for prison inmates who use wireless services to conduct illegal activities, TMCnet reported.

The S. 1749 bill, introduced in October by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), calls for strong measures to prevent inmates from using cell phones to commit crimes from inside prison walls.

The bill would close a loophole in federal law by prohibiting the use or possession of cell phones and wireless devices in federal prisons, according to Feinstein representatives. The bill also would classify cell phones and wireless devices as contraband material. Anyone who provides, or attempts to provide, an inmate with a cell phone could face imprisonment of up to one year.

“Inmates who possess contraband phones and those who supply them should be penalized severely and CTIA (News - Alert)commends the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving Senator Feinstein’s bill,” Largent stated, responding to the Senate Judiciary Committee mark-up of the Cell Phone Contraband Act (S. 1749). “Our members have no interest in seeing inmates use wireless services to conduct unlawful activities or harass and intimidate the public. We hope the full Senate will act on S. 1749 soon.”

Marisa Torrieri is a TMCnet Web editor, covering IP hardware and mobility, including IP phones, smartphones, fixed-mobile convergence and satellite technology. She also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet's gadgets and satellite e-Newsletters. To read more of Marisa's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Marisa Torrieri

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