A prisoner, already incarcerated for a drug conviction, was found guilty of using a contraband cell phone from jail to order the murder of a witness in another upcoming trial. The victim, 38 year old Carl Lackl Jr., was gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside his home in Baltimore, a week before he was to testify in that trial. This crime is the most heinous outcome of a growing and startling problem—cell phones and their availability to prisoners behind bars.
Recent simultaneous prisoner disturbances across the country were coordinated through illegal cell phone calls by an incarcerated gang leader in an attempt to establish dominance for his gang. Other crimes, including threats and murder, have been traced back to prisoners ordering “hits” from prison by use of cell phone to intimidate witnesses or settle gangland scores. It would seem a simple solution to jam such signals within the prison walls and nip that kind of communication in the bud. But it is not that easy. The Federal Communications Commission’s regulations prohibit just that. Since 1934, when cell phones were a fantasy of science fiction, it has been illegal to interfere with signals regulated by the FCC. Two bills currently in Congress are intended to address this problem. The Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (House bill H.R.560 and Senate bill S.251) propose to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to allow the jamming of cell phone signals within prison walls. Proponents say this would eliminate the illegal conversations that allow drug lords and gang leaders to continue their criminal enterprises while locked up.
CTIA – The Wireless Association (The International Association for the Wireless Communications Industry) sees that proposition differently asserting that (1) such jamming would needlessly inconvenience nearby consumer and public safety wireless users, and (2) it is against the law. CTIA’s questions are: How are prisoners getting access to contraband cell phones? A recent intercepted shipment to a corrections institution from a food services delivery truck that contained 26 cell phones and chargers and other contraband shows us one method.
Another technology, called Intelligent Network Access Controller or INAC, may come to the rescue. This technology enables allowable wireless communications in a prison (or other locale) to an approved subset of users— say, users a warden would approve. While everyday cell phone use is a marvel of today’s technology, their current use by prisoners to access their outside networks and continue to work their nefarious deeds while locked up is unacceptable. We’d like to “hear you now.” Post a comment below and tell us your thoughts.