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HRDC comment to FCC re hearing on contraband cell phones - April 2016

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Human Rights Defense Center
DEDICATED TO PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS

April 5, 2016

Submitted Online Only
Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554
RE:

Ex Parte Submission
Promoting Technological Solutions to Combat Contraband
Wireless Devices Use in Correctional Facilities
WC Docket No. 13-111

Dear Ms. Dortch:

With respect to the Field Hearing on Contraband Cellphones being conducted by
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in Columbia, South
Carolina on April 6, 2016, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC)respectfully submits
the following list of proposed questions to be considered.

We understand the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SC DOC) has already
attempted to address contraband problems by requiring all prison staff members from
the Director down to undergo metal detector searches and pat downs when they enter a
correctional facility, and that all their belongings must be in a clear bag, which is subject to
X-ray. This is a good first step; aggressive prosecution of contraband trafficking by prison
employees is also necessary to eliminate the majority of the contraband smuggled into
correctional facilities. While Commissioner Pai stated his position regarding contraband
cellphones in proceedings related to comprehensive reform of the prison phone industry,
seemingly to imply the issues are related, it is imperative that any discussion about this
issue address trafficking of contraband by staff as the crux of the problem. News reports
nationwide are replete with examples of prison guards and other prison employees and
contractors smuggling cellphones to prisoners, often in exchange for bribes.
Moreover, to what extent is the use of contraband cellphones a response by
prisoners to the obscene phone rates historically charged by Departments of Corrections
and ICS providers?
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Phone: 561-360-2523 Fax: 866-735-7136
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org

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To the extent that numerous cellphones possessed by prisoners are smuggled into
the institutions by correctional staff, that appears to contradict claims that such cellphones
pose a threat to staff; i.e., staff members are unlikely to smuggle contraband which would
endanger them or their fellow employees. Comparatively, weapons are not smuggled into
prisons by staff in significant numbers.
HRDC respectfully requests that the following questions be addressed to and
considered by the panelists at the Field Hearing:

1. Does the panel believe the FCC has statutory authority to regulate intrastate
calls made from correctional facilities on contraband cellphones?

2. Does the panel believe the FCC has statutory authority to take actions that
directly impact security measures at correctional facilities?

3. To what extent is the effort to eliminate cellphone use by prisoners a ploy to
increase revenues through the government monopoly ICS phone system and
its attendant commission kickbacks to government agencies?

4. Which Inmate Calling Services (ICS) providers are most heavily involved in
the development and implementation of new technologies designed to detect
contraband cellphones? Does the current business model for this product include
kickbacks to correctional facilities that sign on with ICS providers for detection
services (as is the case with the prison phone industry)?
5. What is the total cost to develop, implement and maintain systems designed to
detect contraband cellphones? Does the success rate of the technology offset the
cost? Given that the number of contraband cellphones in any given facility is
unknown, how is the success rate of detection systems determined?
6. What, if any, cost is passed on to prisoners and their families as a result of the
usage of systems to detect contract cellphones, such as through higher phone
rates? Are costs assessed to all prisoners and their families, or only those found
guilty, through due process, of violating contraband policies? Or is the cost paid
for by the state as part of its massive corrections budget?
7. How many investigations of SC DOC staff suspected of smuggling cellphones
into correctional facilities have been conducted within the last 24 months? How
many SC DOC staff members were disciplined for smuggling cellphones into
correctional facilities in the last 24 months? How many SC DOC staff members
have been prosecuted for smuggling cellphone into correctional facilities? What
was the sentence or punishment imposed?
8. What effect will the implementation of proposed technologies to detect contraband cellphones have on the issue of correctional staff trafficking contraband
cellphones to prisoners?

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9. What is the going rate that staff charge prisoners to smuggle cellphones into
institutions? Has that rate gone up or down in the past five years?
10. Has the implementation of metal detector searches and pat downs of all SC DOC
staff members when they enter a correctional facility and containment of all
belongings in a clear bag which is subject to X-ray reduced incidences of
contraband within the SC DOC? If so, by how much? Also, if so, is that an
indication that such staff searches constitute a best practice?
11. Will the proposed technologies to detect contraband cellphones affect any
persons, businesses or residences located near the correctional facilities in which
they are implemented (i.e., with respect to jamming or managed access)?
As a staunch advocate for all prisoners and their families, HRDC remains committed to
ensuring that implementation of new communications technologies in correctional facilities does
not result in the same ruthless exploitive price gouging of prisoners and their families that has
become prevalent in the long-unregulated prison phone industry. In the event intrastate phone
calls from contraband cellphones in correctional facilities are deemed to fall under the FCC’s
jurisdiction, we call on the Commission to continue in its mandate to ensure that any fees and
costs associated with technology to detect such calls be funded by correctional agencies as part
of their security functions, and not be foisted onto the backs of prisoners and their families –
such as through inflated phone rates in contracts that include cellphone detection systems.
Thank you for your time and attention in this regard.
Sincerely,

Paul Wright.
Executive Director, HRDC
cc (by/email):

Governor Nikki Haley
Bob Wells, Executive Director, South Carolina Bar Association
Chairman Thomas Wheeler
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel
Commissioner Ajit Pai
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly
Matt DelNero, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
Gigi Sohn, Counselor to Chairman Wheeler
Rebekah Goodheart, Legal Advisor to Commissioner Clyburn
Travis Litman, Senior Legal Advisor to Commissioner Rosenworcel
Nicholas Degani, Legal Advisor to Commissioner Pai
Amy Bender, Legal Advisor to Commissioner O'Rielly

 

 

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