Ask any prison guard what the most serious threat to institutional safety they face on a daily basis is, and they’ll likely tell you that it is the ability of prison gangs to communicate with the outside world over illicit cellular devices.
Ever since the first practical, handheld cell phones began coming on the market in the mid-90s, contraband cell phones have posed an horrific threat to the safety of the country’s penal institutions. These devices are often smuggled in through visitors to the prison, delivery or other service employees or even guards themselves, who may be collecting payment from organized gangs operating within the prison system.
Contraband cell phones are no laughing matter
Many people who are not familiar with the U.S. prison system and the dynamics within it have no sense of just how great the magnitude of the problem posed by illicit cellular devices is. Each year in the United States, thousands of witnesses to major felony cases are intimidated by gangs on the inside of prison communicating with so-called soldiers on the outside. Witness intimidation is a widespread, serious problem faced by the American court system, which frequently results in cases becoming unprosecutable and major felons being set free.
But an even more serious problem with illegal cell phones is the direct threat to the safety of guards, their families and other civilians on the outside of prison. For various reasons, guards may incur the ire of gang leaders, also known as shot-callers. This is the case of an ex prison guard named Robert Johnson, who, in 2011, was shot six times at his own home as he prepared to leave for work.
Johnson had been involved as a member of the prison’s SERT team in confiscations of contraband. One of the packages that he intercepted contained more than $50,000 worth of drugs. The gang who was the intended recipient of the delivery became enraged that Johnson would not play ball and deliver the package, as had many other guards who were on the gang’s payroll. They decided to retaliate.
Using an illegal cell phone that the gang leadership was able to use from within the prison, a hit was ordered on Johnson. One of the gang’s soldiers on the outside went to Johnson’s home, broke in the front door and unloaded six shots into his torso before fleeing. Miraculously, Johnson survived.
After 23 surgeries and years of excruciating pain, Johnson is slowly recovering from the ordeal. He now works as a sales agent for Securus Technologies, the company that has deployed the largest network of contraband cell phone interdiction equipment in the nation’s prisons. Johnson believes strongly that Securus’ Wireless Containment System will one day be deployed in all of the nation’s prisons, saving countless lives.