[wired] On paper, it’s a no-brainer: Prisoners have mobile phones they are using to run gangs, call friends, and intimidate witnesses. Tech companies have the equipment to jam the phones by flooding the airwaves, and prisons want to use them. But the 1930s law setting up the nation’s telecommunications bureaucracy makes such jamming illegal.
That drives Howard Melamed, the CEO of CellAntenna, crazy. Witnesses are dying and gangs are flourishing because Congress has yet to put the Safe Prison’s Act bill on President Obama’s desk, Melamed argues. His company, which mostly sells tech to expand cell coverage inside buildings, also does some business in jammers. And over the last seven years, he’s become one of the most public faces of the campaign to rid prisons of rogue cell phones.
“Criminals behind bars are doing what they do best which is break the law,” Melamed said. “People are being killed by criminals using cell phones in prisons to arrange hits on witnesses.”
It’s not an insignificant problem. Mobile phones make their way into prisons by visitors smuggling them in — in whole or in part — or from prison employees who can make thousands of dollars per cell phone. Since cell phones aren’t explicitly considered contraband under federal law, there’s not much punishment for employees who sneak them in. California found more than 4,000 phones in 2009, while the feds found close to 2,000 in their prisons and work camps. In a recent case in Maryland, a number of employees were indicted after the DEA wiretapped a jailed gang leader, catching him complaining about having to settle for salmon and shrimp, instead of lobster, to go with his champagne.
Prison Mobile Phone Debate Jammed Up in the System