By Sam Stanton
State corrections officials say they have come up with a no-cost plan to stop the illegal use of cell phones inside prisons by inmates, a problem that has plagued the prison system for years.
Corrections officials announced today that Global Tel Link has been awarded a contract for inmates to use the company's service to make calls from each prison's authorized telephone system.
The company will receive revenues from those phone calls and will use the proceeds of that deal to install systems to block unauthorized cell signals at prisons, including phone calls, text messages, emails and attempts to access the Internet.
The system was tested last year at two prisons over an 11-day period for about eight hours a day, officials said, and blocked more than 25,000 unauthorized cell signals.
The use of contraband cell phones by inmates has exploded in recent years. Officials say that they confiscated 1,400 phones in 2007, and that last year that number had grown to more than 15,000 phones
So far this year they have found 2,181 contraband phones, with inmates using smart phones to contact people outside prisons, communicate with other inmates or set up Facebook pages.
The phones are smuggled into the prisons in a variety of ways, including by staffers or contractors who sell them for thousands of dollars or by visitors who leave them on prison grounds where inmates working outside may retrieve them.
The first system is expected to be in place by the end of the year.
"Inmates have used cell phones to commit more crimes, organize assaults on staff and terrorize victims," Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a prepared statement.
The new technology "will enable CDCR to crack down on potentially dangerous communications by inmates," he added.