MD politicians look to combat cells in cells
Maryland officials who have been fighting to deploy cell phone jamming technology in prisons say test results show nearby residents wouldn't be affected.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski worked with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to conduct a test of the technology in February at a prison in Western Maryland.
The Democratic duo announced Wednesday that the test "showed no interference" between the jammer and cell phone reception in the community outside the prison.
Despite its apparent effectiveness, the technology is banned by a 1934 communications law enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.
"Senator Mikulski and Governor O’Malley urged Congressional action immediately, in light of these results, on legislation allowing the installation of this technology at U.S. prisons," the officials said in a release. The Senate has already passed the measure, but the House of Representatives has not taken action on it.
Here is the complete testing report, courtesy of the governor's office.
Jamming may be the only way to wipe out cell phone use in prisons -- something that has been a struggle in Maryland. Today, City Paper's Van Smith has a provocative piece about how some correctional officers have smuggled cell phones into prisons to assist gang members and foster the drug trade. Prison spokesman Rick Binetti says it is not a pervasive problem -- but also describes the many ways the state is working to curtail it.
Binetti points out that of the nearly 7,000 COs statewide, 70 were fired last year. Twenty of those firings were for fraternizing with inmates and another four were for possessing contraband. Currently, Binetti says, the department is investigating three COs for having contraband cell phones. Binetti adds that, under current law, firing COs can prove difficult due to a 30-day timeframe for completing an investigation into wrongdoing. "You can't build a solid case in that amount of time," he says.
Meanwhile, Binetti adds, "our efforts in identifying these gangmembers [who are COs] is so much better than it was three years ago. We're figuring out who those people are, and they are getting the chop." New state regulations put in place late last year by the Maryland Police and Correctional Officer Training Commission require that CO applicants answer specific questions about gang ties and that DPSCS background investigators scour law-enforcement gang databases to see if applicants are listed. "If there is any sort of gang affiliation in your background, you could be out," Binetti says.
"The department is trying" to confront the integrity challenges among its staff, Binetti concludes, "and we're doing a hell of a lot more than we were three or four years ago."