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Some prisons combating inmate cell phone problem

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Feb. 14, 2011 at 1:02 p.m.



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DRAPER -- Some prisons around the country are noticing an alarming trend. Cell phones are making it behind bars in growing numbers, to even the most dangerous inmates.

The Utah Department of Corrections says the problem is not nearly as prevalent here as in states like California, where convicted killer Charles Manson somehow got a cell phone.

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In the past year, 11,000 cell phones have been confiscated from California's prisons. Some were used to arrange attacks and extort people on the outside.

In Manson's case, he called and texted people in California, Florida, New Jersey and British Columbia. He missed calls from Arkansas, Indiana and Massachusetts.

Spokesman Steve Gehrke at the Utah Department of Corrections acknowledges that kind of breach raises all kinds of concerns.

"When you get a cell phone in here, you don't know the kind of conversations that are occurring, the kind of serious threats that are out there when someone's just used a cell phone that's come in through contraband, or ways that aren't approved," he said.

California prisons are looking into possible remedies like jamming devices, which can be effective but sometimes block out essential communications.

"That's a real concern is that you don't know how far the impact of that jamming system is," Gehrke said. "You've got to find a method that really works well to target exactly what you're looking for but doesn't have any collateral impacts to any emergency communications devices."

California and other states are considering "managed access" systems which capture cell phone signals and block unauthorized calls.

The system recently went through a successful test run in Mississippi. But "managed access" is expensive, with a price tag of about $1 million per prison.

The Utah Department of Corrections says the issue isn't big enough to take those kinds of drastic measures here.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

Andrew Adams

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