It was in 2010 when former corrections officer Robert Johnson fell prey to the dangers posed by prison inmates using contraband cell phones. Johnson had been tasked with confiscating the contraband that is routinely smuggled into Lee Correctional Institution, where he’d worked for 15 years. It was when he’d intercepted a particularly valuable package that a prison gang put out a hit on his life.
Early in the morning on March 5, 2010, the front door of his house was kicked in, and he was shot six times by a recently released inmate while his wife was in the bedroom. Johnson survived, nearly dying twice and undergoing over a dozen operations.
It turned out that the hit had been arranged and paid for from within the prison by inmates using contraband cell phones. Since then Johnson has retired from his career as a corrections officer and become a consultant for Securus Technologies, a provider of communication solutions for public sectors such as public safety, investigations, and corrections.
In March, Johnson appeared before the FCC during a hearing to deal with the problem of cell phones getting into the hands of prison inmates. Because there are regulations that prevent the jamming of cell phone signals for public safety reasons, the FCC voted to allow correctional institutions to use contraband interdiction solutions provided by companies like Securus Technologies to reroute unauthorized cell phone calls coming from inside prisons.
Securus Technologies’ Wireless Containment Solutions (WCS) are designed to capture cell phone traffic and forward only legitimate connections to local cell service towers. Calls coming from unknown numbers are blocked, preventing inmates from using the contraband cell phones they manage to smuggle into prisons.
The issue was brought to public attention last summer when an inmate used a cell phone from inside Evans Correctional Institution to upload a video of himself brandishing a knife to Facebook Live. The inmate, Jose Rivera, had been caught with contraband cell phones more than once.
Now that the FCC has moved to give correctional institutions access to new tools like Securus’ WCS, it’s only a matter of deploying them throughout the country. “While still disturbing, fortunately this latest news is just about a video,” Johnson said. “I pray to God every day when I open the newspaper that I’m not going to read another story like mine.”
Securus Technologies has spent more than $40 million developing solutions like WCS to make sure cell phones aren’t used by inmates in prisons around the country. The company is headquartered in Dallas and provides technology solutions to over three thousand public safety and corrections agencies that supervise over a million inmates in North America.