Smuggled cell phones inside prisons are becoming an epidemic in the United States, particularly in California where eleven thousand cell phones were seized from prisoners last year. Cell phones have been used to arrange attacks and extortions, and while cell phone jammers have been touted as a solution, they have the less than useful side effect of also jamming official emergency communications.
While the situation is not nearly so extreme in the state of Utah, it is still a growing concern, as Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Corrections, told journalists on Monday. “When you get a cell phone in here, you don’t know the type of conversations that are occurring, you don’t know the type of security threats that are out there when someone is just using a cell phone that they got in through contraband or through ways that aren’t approved,” he says, adding that the state of Utah is still in a “Wait and see” holding position over what to do about what is a growing nationwide trend. Gehrke also addressed the suggestion of using cell phone jammers to deal with the problem, noting that “You don’t know how far the impact of that jamming system is… You’ve got to find a method that really works well to target exactly what you’re going for, but doesn’t have any collateral damage to the emergency communication devices”.
One possible solution is a “managed access” system that has just been tried out in Mississippi, which can actually detect and then block specific unauthorized cellular signals. The cost, however, is the snag – around one million per dollars per prison.