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Controlling Contraband Cell Phones, Schober, 2015

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Cell Phones
and Detection
in Prisons,
Correctional and
Secured Facilities
By Scott Schober
Wireless Detection and
Cybersecurity Expert

Controlling Contraband Cell Phones



Controlling Contraband Cell Phones


Contraband Cell Phone use on Internet


Blocking Unauthorized Calls?


How Phones Enter Secure Facilities


Contraband Detection Methods


Interception and Detection Recommendations
Berkeley Products Detect Contraband Cell Phones
Berkeley Varitronics Systems and Scott Schober

© 2015, Berkeley Varitronics Systems, All Rights Reserved



Controlling Contraband Cell Phones

Contraband smart phones present
challenges to wardens

Contraband has been around as long as there have been prisoners, but
contraband cell phones are a relatively new phenomenon. Cell phones
started out as bulky devices the size of a brick, but market forces and
evolving technology have made them progressively smaller and smarter.
Cell phones first started to make their way into prison systems in the
1990s, but the number of contraband phones exploded in the 2000s.
Now many correctional systems seize thousands of phones per year.
Even basic phones offer unmonitored communication with associates on
the outside. Smartphones also allow inmates to access to the
Internet and social media platforms.

In 2014 a routine sweep at a prison in New Mexico
uncovered a smart watch.

Some inmates use contraband phones to talk with their families and
avoid charges from the pay phones installed in correctional facilities.
Other users are not so benign. They also use contraband phones to pass
orders to accomplices inside or outside the prison. Inmates have used
cell phones to orchestrate
escape attempts, run identity theft and drug rings,
intimidate witnesses, run
scams, extort money,
coordinate riots and
protests and take out
contract hits on members
of the public and other

Click on this link to watch the actual video:

Controlling Contraband Cell Phones


Think twice before "Jamming"
Can’t prisons just “Jam” cell phone transmissions?

No, it’s illegal.

Jamming causes more problems than it solves. Under current law, the
use of technologies that block (or “jam”) mobile calls are illegal in the
United States. Cell phone jamming doesn’t just block inmate calls -- it
can also interfere with mobile 9-1-1 emergency calls and public safety
communication. Plus if “jammers” were legalized for any purpose, the
department of Homeland Security, would be worried that if put in the
hands of terrorists, they could “jam” an area after an attack. It’s a very
complicated issue. Therefore, we don’t see “jamming signals” as an
alternative any time in the near future.

Plus a single "jamming" act can generate a $100,000 fine.

According to the FCC, the unlawful use of a jammer is a criminal
offense, and can result in various sanctions, including (ironically), a jail
sentence. More specifically, the unlawful marketing, sale or operation
of cell phone, GPS, or other signal jammers in the U.S. can result in significant fines. Up to $16,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, and as high as $112,500 for any single act. So if anyone
tries to sell you a jamming device - run!

Possibly 10% of
have cell phones

The California Department
of Corrections and
Rehabilitation found 12,151
phones in 2013. A writer for
The Atlantic estimated that
number represented 10% of
the phones in the system,
meaning almost all of the
state’s 135,600 inmates had
a phone. Sources from
other prisons estimate
higher catch rates, but the
number of phones getting
into inmates’ hands is far
too high.


Contraband Cell Phone use on Internet

Media coverage of contraband use is all over
the internet

In today’s “instant news internet,” as soon as a story breaks,
it is everywhere. In spite of excellent security records, The
more “sensational” the story that faster it travels. Damaging
public perception and internal effectiveness. Here are just a
few examples:

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

In 2015 approximately 7,600 cell phones were seized in Georgia prisons, and the director the Office of Investigations and
Compliance estimated they were only able to catch half of the
phones. Link to article in The Atlantic:

Half of all contrband cell phones make it into prisons

The article later explains an incident of how contraband cell phones
entered a prison by throwing a cell phone over the wall inside a
dead cat. Link to CBS 46 story:


A sex offender in an Oklahoma prison

Man was caught possessing a cell phone eight times over 21
months starting in early 2012. Read entire story, click on link:

Cell phones in the wrong hands...

Cell phones in the hands of convicted criminals pose a danger
to staff, other inmates and the public outside the prison.
Unfortunately, far too many of them escape detection. However, in an Indiana prison, a representative reported a single
inmate was caught with three phones in under two weeks.

Combating contraband cell phones in correctional facilities
effectively takes a comprehensive effort with committed,
trained staff and the right equipment.

Blocking Unauthorized Calls?

Cell Phone Detection vs. Managed Access


Managed Access Systems (MAS) route calls through a system that
mimics a cell phone tower. Calls from authorized devices are allowed
through while unauthorized devices are blocked. Even at facilities
that using a Managed Access Systems, preventing inmate access to
contraband phones is important for the following reasons:
• Managed Access Systems effectiveness depends on coverage in all
areas of the facility, while FCC regulations prohibit the Managed
Access Systems signal from reaching outside the prison walls. The
possibility of undiscovered holes in the Managed Access Systems
coverage means inmate could still make calls if they find a spot
that allows an unauthorized phone to connect to outside towers.

• It is possible for inmates to get their hands on authorized devices
through corruption or manipulating prison staff.

• Cellular technology is constantly evolving. New wireless technology
could potentially outpace MAS equipment.

• Several North American wireless carriers advocate using both
managed access and detection.

Preventing Contraband Cell Phone Use in Prisons

Report published by Global Tel•Link Corporation before the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.
To read report click on link:



How Phones Enter Secure Facilities

There are few hard statistics on how phones are
smuggled in, but these several broad categories:
1. Employees

Inmates and prisoner advocate organizations claim most cell phones are
brought into correctional facilities by
staff or contractors. Unfortunately,
corruption is a legitimate problem. In
2009, 300 California prison employees
were suspected of trafficking cell
phones to prisoners.

For some, the motive is financial.
With inmates or their associates paying
up to $1,500 per cell phone, some staff
can’t resist taking money on the side.
In 2011 two employees at a single
California prison boasted they made over $100,000 smuggling contraband.
To read article-click link:
For staff involved in personal relationships with inmates, a cell phone is a
communication method to keep in touch while they’re not at work.

2. Deliveries

Having cell phones delivered requires an inmate coordinate with at least
one accomplice outside the facility, a task made easier if the inmate already has access to a phone. The accomplice can stash phones inside the
delivery containers or on the delivery vehicles.

Cell phones have been found in everyday object pictured here. A cell
phone hidden inside the plastic peanut butter jar makes it difficult for dogs
to detect. Cell phones have also arrive at correctional facilities through the
mail concealed inside everyday objects. Instead of the old file in the cake,
an inmate might get a phone inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread.


How Phones Enter Secure Facilities
Magnetic boxes in delivery truck

In October 2015 a correctional officer at a
prison in Maryland noticed a delivery truck with
magnetic boxes containing cell phones attached
under the cabin. Further inspection turned up
three more trucks carrying contraband.
To read complete article, click on link:

3. Visitors

The vast majority of visitors do not cause problems, and studies have
shown that inmates who stay in contact with family on the outside are less
likely to reoffend and have better post-release outcomes.
Some visitors smuggle in contraband, including cell phones. The volume
of visitor traffic makes it impractical for most facilities to thoroughly
search everyone. Staff must rely on observation, intuition and involuntary
guilt cues to determine who to search.

546 visitors arrested

There is no doubt that visitors are a source of contraband phones. In
September 2014, a California Department of Corrections representative
told the L.A. Times they had arrested 546 visitors for attempting to bring
in contraband phones and drugs.

Attorney arrested

Legal representatives are not
above suspicion either. A
Florida attorney was arrested
in March 2015 for smuggling a
smartphone into the Seminole
County Jail for his client. To
read complete news article,
click on link:




How Phones Enter Secure Facilities
4. Thrown Over Fences

In correctional facilities where total 24-hour surveillance is not possible
some contraband phones literally go over the prison walls. When the inmate is allowed outside they retrieve the contraband and it enters the
prison economy.

For example, outsiders have been known to cut open a basketball, fill it
with contraband, stuff with filler, re-stitch the basketball so it looks
normal and throw it over the wall. It fits right in with the athletic equipment. The prisoner knows when to expect it, so he just walks out into the
yard and picks it up.

5. Drones drop phones over walls.

This is new and growing threat whereby drones with “hooks” can literally
fly low on the outside of the wall unseen, go up and over quickly undetected, then fly low to the ground, drop the contraband package, and get
right back out in a matter of minutes. The civilian drone industry in the US
has grown from almost nothing in 2013 to over $1 billion projected in 2016.

How Phones Enter Secure Facilities

Creativity abounds once a cell phone
is smuggled into a facility...

Prisoners have stashed phones behind ceilings and walls, inside hollowed-out books and legal briefs, toiletries, loose clothing, electronics
and food containers that appear sealed, under and inside mattresses and
attached to bed frames. They often hide phones outside their cell in
common areas such as the kitchen, yard, library and work areas. For
example, an inmate going on work detail might leave their phone in the
prison shower during the day and retrieve it when they return. Shower
shoes with the soles split open make effective cell phone vehicles.

Prisoners also transport phones inside commissary items, in their
clothing or wrapped in plastic and inserted in their body cavities.
Overweight inmates can tuck phones under their breasts or folds of
body fat. Inmate kitchen workers and janitors often serve as couriers,
since they have relatively free movement and easy access to areas
with many hiding spots.

Believe It or Not??

Occasionally an inmate with a
contraband phone will slip up
and give themselves away. A
prisoner in a Shri Lanka prison
hiding a phone in his rectum was
caught when he received a call
and the phone rang.



How Phones Enter Secure Facilities

Did you know?

Contraband travels together

Chances are if you find a contraband cell phone, you will also find additional contraband. Sometimes a “ferrous” detected knife, often drugs,
cigarettes and cash. So, since the cell phone is easier to “detect” while
drugs, cigarettes and cash are not, if you find the contraband cell phone
in that container of Ajax, chances are you will control other contraband
as well.

Believe It or Not??

Charles Manson makes call from prison
Cell phones have made their way into

the hands of closely-guarded prisoners.
Murderous cult leader Charles Manson
has been caught with cell phones twice

since 2008, and a follower was arrested
for trying to smuggle a

Charles Manson

cell phone to him in 2013.



There are several methods of uncovering hidden phones, but some are more
effective than others. The most effective detection strategy uses a mix of
methods that complement each other. Let’s look at the advantages and
disadvantages of methods used to find contraband cell phones
that have made it into the facility.


Detection Methods Defined
Cell Phone Sniffing Dogs

Dogs are a valuable tool for finding many types of contraband. They can quickly
sniff out phones, batteries and accessories in both cells and common areas with
a high degree of accuracy. The exact scent they key in on is not known, so it is
possible a dog may miss phones that do not contain the signature smell.
The major downsides come from the fact that dogs are living animals. Dogs
can’t be everywhere at once. Because of the expenses involved multiple facilities usually share the same dog, and word of their presence spreads fast. They
require expensive specialized training and ongoing upkeep costs. There is also
the possibility the dog may develop health problems that render them unfit for

The Cell Phone needs to be ON, but not in use with the
Radio Frequency Detectors (RFD)

Radio Frequency Detectors pick up the radio waves generated when a cell
phone communicates with the tower. When a phone is on but not actively on a
call or sending/receiving data it “checks in” with the tower every few seconds
then shuts down the antenna to conserve power. When on a call or transmitting
data the tower communication is sustained until the call ends or the transmission stops. When the phone is off or in flight mode, no transmission occurs.
Radio Frequency Detectors are available in both stationary and portable format. Stationary units are permanently installed and ideal for monitoring common areas such as showers, lunchrooms and outdoor yards for cell phone
activity. Portable units vary from small, concealable devices that can be hidden
under clothing on foot patrols to powerful handheld devices that can detect a
signal from over 100 yards and triangulate a phone’s exact location.

The Cell Phone does NOT need to be on with
Ferromagnetic Detectors (FMD)

Ferromagnetic Detectors pick up the electromagnetic field generated by cell
phones and other electronic devices. They are similar to handheld metal detectors, but are not triggered by non-target metals like jewelry, medical implants
and clothing studs.
• The phone does not need to be on
• It can pick up phones concealed behind walls
• Can detect cell phones under clothing and in small containers.
This makes the Ferromagnetic Detectors ideal for use in scanning visitors and
their belongings, also perfect for scanning the mail and any small-box deliveries.
Perfect for scanning purses and briefcases without opening them.
The only downside is their range is extremely short, usually less than a foot.
They must be in close proximity to the object being scanned.


Detection Method Comparison

Cell Sniffing Dogs
Approx. $10,000
ongoing expenses

Radio Frequency


Ferromagnetic Detectors


Phone can be on or off.
Can find phone parts,
chargers and accessories.
Some dogs can alert on
multiple types of contraband,
like drugs and cigarettes.

Long range.
Can triangulate phone position.
Some units are concealable
under clothing.
Installed systems can monitor
specific areas 24-7.
Phone can be on or off.
Does not alert on non-target
Can uncover phones inside
containers and behind walls.
Detects cell phones, metal
ferrous knives, shanks and guns


Require handlers and expensive training. Cost of upkeep:
Food, vet bills, etc.
Loss of investment if the dog
becomes unfit for service.
Search causes disruption and
is obvious to other inmates.
Not COVERT...Phones are
immediately flushed
Phone must be ON and
not in airplane mode.
Cannot find (smell)
other contraband such
as drugs or cigarettes.

Very short range.

Cannot find other


Interception and Detection Recommendations

It’s better to intercept
phones coming in

before they can cause any
harm. Once contraband
phones are on the

inside, there is an

almost unlimited number
of places for inmates to
hide them compared to

the relatively few routes

of entry. In either case it’s
important for staff to be
observant and alert for
anything that breaks

routine or seems out of
the ordinary.


Scanning Staff, Visitors and Contractors

Corrupt staff members who smuggle in phones typically conceal them
under their clothes or inside bags or lunch containers. A few have concealed them inside body orifices. They rely on recognition or authority to
avoid being subjected to search. Sometimes multiple staff members make
up a smuggling ring, so it’s possible the person doing the inspection is part
of the problem. Legal representatives and contractors can also bring
phones in. They conceal phones on their person as well as on vehicles and
inside cargo.

Visitors may conceal phones anywhere on their person or in their belongings. They have been caught bringing in contraband phones concealed in
their hair, hidden under clothing, folds of fat, wigs and belt buckles, inside
bags, prosthetic limbs and the soles of shoes, inserted into body orifices
and even concealed on children.

“Arresting 20-30 visitors and staff per month”

The problem is widespread and many inmates and prisoner advocates
claim the majority of contraband phones are smuggled in by prison
workers. Staff and workers certainly have more opportunity than regular visitors. In September 2015 a Georgia prison representative told a
local news station they were arresting between 20 and 30 visitors and
staff per month for smuggling contraband.

“Food service vendors fired”

In October 2015, Bloomberg Business reported over 100 food-service
workers for a food vendor for the Michigan correctional system had
been fired over the previous 10 months for having personal relationships with inmates and smuggling in cell phones and other contraband.

Read article at:

Interception and Detection Recommendations


Monitor the Mail Room!

Inmates enlist accomplices on the outside to
mail in contraband phones disguised inside items
of all kinds. Unlike drugs cell phones cannot be
concealed under a stamp or inside greeting
cards, but just about anything larger could be
used to smuggle in a phone or smartwatch. Contraband phones arrive hidden inside everything
from apparel to toiletries. Small food packages
and containers that appear factory sealed can in
fact hold multiple phones. Accomplices can take
apart some phones to make them even smaller
and harder to detect.

Scan all packages with an Ferromagnetic Detectors device, no
matter how pristine and innocuous the item or packaging looks.
Skilled product adulterers can open a box or hollow out a loaf of
bread, insert a phone and seal it back up so no one could tell it has
been tampered with.

Believe It or Not??

Phone threat from prison
to John Whitmire
In 2008 a death row inmate in Texas

called state senator John Whitmire and
threatened his family.



Interception and Detection Recommendations


Police Outdoor and Common Areas

Another way of getting phones inside prison walls is over
the fences. A 2014 article by the Associated Press reported a
correctional officer walked the grounds and spotted a couple of 2-liter soda bottles floating in a pond near the fence.
Most people who saw them would assume they were simply
trash. When the officer retrieved them he found they were
tied to waterproof bags filled with over two dozen phones.
Read the details:
An accomplice will sneak up to the outer fence under
cover of darkness and attempt to throw packages containing
contraband onto the grounds. Accomplices have also used
aerial drones to drop phones and other contraband.

Facilities can stop people from throwing phones over by
increasing the distance between the inner and outer walls
and increasing the height of fences with netting. Improving
fencing will not stop drops from drones so surveillance and
frequent ground patrols are still important.

The short range of Ferromagnetic Detectors devices
makes them ineffective for scanning large areas, but an
Radio Frequency Detector is capable of finding phones as
long as they are on. Radio Frequency Detectors are also
ideal for identifying inmates using their devices both outside and in large common areas.

Stationary Radio Frequency Detectors devices installed
in these areas can covertly monitor for contraband phone
transmissions at all times. By comparing alert times it is
possible to narrow down the field of suspected phone owners. Staff can then use them in conjunction with handheld
Radio Frequency Detectors to zero in on the target.

Interception and Detection Recommendations



Covert Detection on
Foot Patrols

When conducting an active search of either the interior
or exterior grounds, it’s important to maintain the element of surprise. Word travels fast in prison, and when
inmates receive advance warning they turn off their
phones and hide them. This makes the contraband
phones more difficult to uncover, especially in minimum
and medium security facilities where inmates are
housed in open dorms rather than individual cells. There
are many places to hide a phone and inmates might move them to a different dorm in rotation as the individual dorms are searched. During mass
movements it’s difficult to prevent handoffs.

For the stealth approach, the solution is a small Radio Frequency Detectors device a correctional officer can wear in a pocket or under clothing
as they make their rounds. A phone on a call or streaming data will trigger
an alert and allow the officer to identify which cells to search or even
catch the owner in the act. If a phone is on but not active, the detector
may pick up a short transmission when the phone contacts the tower. The
phone signal may not last long enough to lead the officer to the device,
but it will allow them to confirm a phone is in the general area.

End the RISK of Contraband Cell Phones

Contraband cell phones in the hands of prisoners pose a significant
risk to staff, inmates and the public. They are simply too dangerous
to take lightly. With the right equipment and training, even correctional facilities without a managed access system can substantially
decrease the number of contraband phones.
Berkeley Varitronics Systems manufactures a full line of Radio
Frequency Detectors and Ferromagnetic Detectors that assist
correctional facility staff in keeping phones out of inmates’ hands.


Berkeley Products Detect Contraband Cell Phones

Manta Ray ™

A portable Ferromagnetic Detectors
that that can be used in handheld or
mounted to a stationary base. The
Manta Ray is ideal for use in the mail
room and visitor check-in scanning small
packages and containers. It can also be
used during cell sweeps to find cell phones
hidden inside objects and behind walls.

manual sweeping


A stationary portal Ferromagnetic
Detectors for quickly scanning
visitors and workers without
time-consuming searches. The
SentryHound can find phones on
or off and has both audible alarms
and lights to show the location of
the hidden phone.


WatchHound ™

A stationary Radio Frequency Detectors that
continuously and covertly monitors for cell
phone use in open areas such as yards,
lunch rooms and prisoner dorms. The
WatchHound creates alert logs that staff can
use to identify cell phone users by comparing
the trigger times with surveillance footage or
other records.

continuous scanning


Berkeley Products Detect Contraband Cell Phones

PocketHound ™

This Radio Frequency
Detectors is about the size
of a pack of cards, making it
perfect for covert scanning on
foot patrols. It can trigger an
LED alert and a silent vibration
when it picks up a signal.

covert detection

long range scanning

WolfHound ™

The ultimate in long-range cell phone detection.
This Radio Frequency Detector can sniff out targets up to
150 feet away and identify multiple phones at the same
time. It features a signal strength meter that allows the
user to home in on any phone actively downloading or on
a call. Perfect for sweeping prison yards and catching
phone users in the act.


Berkeley Varitronics Systems and Scott Schober
Scott N. Schober is the
President and CEO

Scott N. Schober, Author and
Cybersecurity Expert

Looking for specific
contraband training
and control for your

Berkeley Varitronics
Systems has years of
experience in helping
prisons control contraband
cell phones. We can offer
an onsite audit to show you
the scope of the problem
at your facility. And we
offer onsite training. When
prisoners have cell phones,
you lose control. We help
you take back control.
Give us a call at
732-548-3737 or email
to tailor a cell phone
detection training program
that fits your needs.

of Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS),
a forty-year-old New Jersey-based privately
held company and leading provider of advanced, world-class wireless test and security solutions. Schober also invented BVS’s
cell phone detection tools, used to enforce
a “no cell phone policy” in prisons and
secure government facilities.

Scott is a highly sought-after subject expert
on the topic of cybersecurity.

He is often seen on ABC News, Bloomberg TV, Al Jazeera America, CBS
This Morning News, CCTV America, CNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News,
Good Morning America, Inside Edition, MSNBC, and many more. His precautionary advice is heard on dozens of radio stations such as XM Sirius
Radio, Bloomberg Radio, and The Peggy Smedley Show. Scott has been
interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Success,
Newsweek, USA Today, and The New York Times.
Hacked Again, written by Scott
Schober, details the ins and outs of
this cybersecurity expert. As a CEO of
a top wireless security tech firm,
Scott, struggles to understand the
motives and mayhem behind his being
hacked. Scott realized his worst fears
wereonly a hack away as he fell prey
to an invisible enemy. Order his book
online to discover helpful tips to prevent you from being HACKED! Visit: to order.

Berkeley Varitronics Systems has been designing
and manufacturing cell phone detection
equipment since 1990.

Our devices can find phones using all of the current
cellular technologies and frequencies.
Correctional systems around the world rely on
BVS equipment to keep cell phones out of the
hands of dangerous criminals.
Start making your facility safer for staff,
inmates and the public by
contacting BVS today.

Call 732-548-3737 or

email for more information



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