Prisons chief: New cell phone intercept working

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi corrections officials say a new inmate phone block system has worked so well at the Parchman penitentiary that they will expanded it to other state prisons.

Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps told The Clarion-Ledger that the cutting-edge technology has blocked more than 600,000 unauthorized texts and cellular calls originating from inside Parchman since August.

Epps says pay phone usage has increased 25 percent, or about $20,000, at the prison. That money goes into the Inmate Welfare Fund, which provides goods and services to inmates at institutions around the state.

Last fall, the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced it had signed a contract with its telecommunications provider for a program to immobilize illegal cell phones used by inmates at the Parchman penitentiary.

Epps said the system uses radio frequencies which intercepts cell phone transmissions in defined areas but permits authorized and 911 calls.

Since 2007, officials said more than 8,700 cell phones have been confiscated at Mississippi jails and prisons. Epps said those cell phones have been used to plan escapes or to bring contraband into the prisons.

Epps said the system will be installed at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl and the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville by May.

“I don’t want to leave the impression that you don’t have to monitor it. We have to monitor the system each day,” Epps said.

Instead of an inmate completing a call, a recorded message tells them, “the cellular device you are using at the Mississippi State Penitentiary has been identified as contraband and is illegal to possess under the criminal statute, 47-5-193. The device will no longer function.”

Inmates caught with cell phones will be prosecuted, Epps said, and staff providing cell phones to inmates will be fired and prosecuted.