When Robert Johnson got up for work at 5:30 AM on March 5, 2010, the last thing he expected was for a recently released inmate to invade his home and gun him down in cold blood. Two near death experiences and over 20 operations later, Johnson found a new calling in life.
It turned out that his attacker had been hired by an inmate inside Lee Correctional Institution where Johnson worked as a corrections officer whose job it was to interdict contraband. How did that happen? The inmate used a smuggled cell phone and a reloadable cash card to arrange the hit. Why? It probably had to do with a particularly expensive loss a gang in the prison had suffered when Johnson intercepted a package worth nearly $50,000.
Johnson had worked at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina for fifteen years before that fateful day in 2010. Since then he has made the fight to stop inmates using cell phones inside prisons a second career working with Securus Technologies as a consultant.
I looked up Johnson’s story when I heard his testimony at a hearing held by the FCC about the growing problem of prison inmates smuggling cell phones and using them. At the time, the issue was in the news because a disturbing Facebook Live video shot from inside another prison, Evans Correctional Institution, had gone viral. The inmate in that case, Jose Rivera, was made a show of posing with a knife. It wasn’t the first time he’d been caught with a cell phone.
The FCC voted to issue new regulations for correctional institutions to allow them to make use of filtering technology that intercepts and stops illegal cell phone use by their inmates. It’s still not possible to jam cell signals completely because some cell phones in prisons are authorized, and it’s illegal to make 911 calls from cell phones impossible.
Johnson noted that the case of the Facebook Live video was disturbing, but it’s the more serious safety risks that he worries about at night. Prison gangs use cell phones to communicate with the outside world and orchestrate new crimes every day. Thankfully, Securus Technologies has developed what they call Wireless Containment Solutions, or WCS. What it does is intercept cell phones attempting to connect to a cell tower and stop them if they aren’t authorized.
The company works with law enforcement and corrections institutions all over North America to manage their communications and technology infrastructures. WCS is just one of many solutions they’ve developed to help keep the public safe.