When I heard about an FCC hearing last March about the problem of prison inmates using cell phones, I didn’t fully understand the risk to the public that it represented, but that confusion went away when I heard about the story of Robert Johnson.
Johnson, who works as a consultant for Securus Technologies, was once a corrections officer at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina. He’d worked in corrections for 15 years and oversaw the interdiction of prison contraband. One day, he intercepted a large package that contained around fifty thousand dollars of contraband headed for a local prison gang. It wasn’t long after that Johnson’s life was changed.
He got up early in the morning for work on March 5, 2010, and found himself the target of a hit. An inmate who’d been released not long before broke into his house and shot him point blank several times. Johnson lived to tell the tale, but it took over twenty operations to repair the damage. His would-be executioner, it turned out, had been hired by inmates inside Lee Correctional Institution using contraband cell phones and cash cards. It had been retribution for being an efficient contraband officer.
Johnson, I learned, decided to make it a mission to put a stop to inmate’s using cell phones in prisons. He teamed up with Securus Technologies to help spread the word about that company’s Wireless Containment Solutions (WCS). By installing WCS, prisons can stop cell phone activity from unauthorized phone numbers from reaching the local cell network, making contraband phones next to useless.
The FCC voted to make such solutions a reality at prisons around the country. Federal regulations make it impossible to jam cell signals in public spaces because it prevents 911 calls being made during emergencies, but solutions like Securus’s WCS are an effective way to stop inmate’s being able to orchestrate crimes outside of a prison’s walls.
Just this summer there was a viral video streamed over Facebook Live by an inmate using a contraband cell phone inside Lee Correctional Institution. In that case, the inmate simply wielded a knife in a disturbing performance. It was another reminder that inmates still have widespread access to contraband, and cell phones are among the things they can get.
Securus Technologies is a company that serves law enforcement and correctional institutions across America. The thousands of agencies they help with technology and communications solutions oversee over a million inmates. It’s good to know they have public safety in mind and are working to solve issues like this one.