Cell-Phone Jammers Necessary in Prisons
Monday, August 03, 2009 | Comments



By Bob Stork


With great concern and for numerous reasons, I support the legalized control of cell-phone jammers for use within the confines of correctional institutes. Cell phones will be smuggled into correctional facilities regardless of strict regulations prohibiting their use or the impending threat of felony charges for their possession or use. As an institute uncovers a new method of smuggling illegal devices into a facility, inmates discover a more innovative way to circumvent this security breach.

A cell phone in a prisoner’s possession allows him to contact outside partners in crime to coordinate escape plans, thereby creating life-threatening situations for the guards and public surrounding the institution. More often, reports from correctional facilities overwhelmingly indicate that hidden cell phones have been used to harass the victims of their crimes, or an inmate repeatedly intimidates his victim in an effort to persuade the victim to recant the charges or change his story to instill suspicion in the testimony.

Many detainees continue to organize their illegal drug trades from inside prison walls. A cell phone is an essential means for the detainee to keep the drug organization running and closely controlled. By contacting visitors before they arrive, prisoners can arrange for a transfer of drugs and drug paraphernalia, allowing them to continue the same illegal habit that placed them in custody. Frequently, the family endures harassment from its incarcerated relative, demanding bail when the family recognizes the relative is better served remaining in custody.

A prominent concern is the ability of an inmate to contact witnesses before an impending hearing, trial or appeal. By matching alibis or correcting conflicts in testimony, a defendant can win a reduction in or a complete dismissal of charges. The most frightening concern that correctional institutes contend are undetected cell phones used by inmates to warn other inmates in advance of surprise searches that could confiscate cell phones, knives, drugs, syringes and other contraband items. This smuggled merchandise can pose life-threatening situations to correction officers and medical personnel working in one of the most hostile and treacherous work environment that exists.

Cellular jammers are blatantly in use by the U.S. government within its own federal prisons. But at the state, county and municipal level, the FCC upholds the ruling that “…prohibits any person from willfully or maliciously interfering with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the [Communications] Act or operated by the U.S. government.” The ruling is used to justify the prohibition of jammers; the concern is that no device can be authorized that deliberately interferes with another approved piece of equipment.

Engineering and Enforcement

I’m not promoting the outright blanketing of all areas around a detention center with a white noise generator that causes degradation to a radio system, much less the institute’s own communications system. Any FCC-approved device needs to be properly engineered and installed to limit the propagation to within the high-density RF walls of the facility. The jammer needs to be destructive only to the downlink side of the cellular receiver and generate a strong enough band of carriers that inhibits a cell phone from logging into a data channel. This probably means no external antennas are needed, which limits the potential interference to most adjacent property cell sites. Individual rules could be considered to restrict or prohibit the authority of a facility to own and operate a jamming device is there is a cell site in close proximity. Potential interference can be further controlled by the use of leaky coax instead of a distributed antenna system. My support for jammers ends without sufficient rules, design, installation and monitoring.

If jamming devices fail to be properly regulated, similar to bidirectional amplifiers (BDAs), we will suffer a more severe uncontrollable clutter that has driven the industry to chase the overabundance of interfering signals emitted by the FCC-approved gadgets. It’s easy to inadvertently create a jammer. Turn the gain control to maximum in both the uplink and downlink amplifier and have no regard for the isolation between the donor and redistribution antenna system. The level of white noise generated by this apparatus is at least as damaging and as great a hazard to public-safety radio systems as any jamming device yet designed. Typically, BDAs are installed without proper supervision and turned to the maximum gain to provide the greatest coverage while, unknowingly, this two-way amp is nothing but a broadband generator radiating into an outside antenna.

With advances in technology, more equipment is becoming available that is capable of becoming inadvertent jammers. These new potential jammers need to be included in a closely controlled process in which the FCC manages and keeps the air free of harmful interference. A program that requires monitoring BDAs and jamming equipment for any failure that results in harmful emission should be devised. This would help control the dilemma we already have with BDAs.

Corrections is merely asking for a blocking device that can be deployed safely to limit the unlawful use of cell phones within their walls, proven to threaten the lives of staff. They are looking to this industry to come up with a solution to the widespread use of this illegal contraband in their controlled environment. It is essential that the FCC allow cell jammers to be used, but in a strictly controlled environment and with proper design, installation and ongoing supervision.

Read the anti-jamming counter argument here.

Your comments are welcome, click here.

Bob Stork is the CEO of Communications International Inc. (CII), a full-service wireless communications provider. Stork has a degree in engineering science and has more than 30 years of management and technical engineering experience in RF and RF propagation. During the past 30 years, Stork has grown CII to become a premier company in the high-end telecommunications industry. CII has 11 locations, nine of which are in Florida.



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