Prison denies ignoring OCC

| 19/11/2013

(CNS): The director of the local prison service has denied ignoring the Office of the Complaints Commissioner (OCC) following revelations yesterday that more than two years after recommendations were made on how to tackle the problem of phone use inside the jail the prison has still not installed jamming equipment. The prison boss said the prison had a zero tolerance policy to phone use and it was tackling the issue in different ways, as jamming did not live up to all the claims. If the prison was to use such equipment, the director said, it would need to ensure it would work properly and also get round the problem of having a telecommunications tower right outside the prison boundary.

Following the criticisms that the prison has been exceptionally slow and reluctant in adopting one of three important recommendations made by Nicola Williams, the complaints commissioner, the prison responded with an official statement denying that it was not attempting to address the outstanding recommendation made in October 2011.

Williams conducted the initial investigation as a result of a complaint about strip searches taking place at the women’s prison, allegedly as a result of the need to check for cell phones. In the subsequent report the commissioner warned that the prison faced the risk of legal challenges if it persisted with inappropriate and what appeared to be badly managed strip searching of inmates. She pointed out that trying to control the smuggling of smart phones and SIM cards was almost impossible and it would be easier and cheaper to prevent the use of cell phones in all the jails by jamming the signals in the prison areas instead of trying to find them all.

Neil Lavis, the director of the Cayman Islands Prison Service, said that he was working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to find cell phone jamming solutions that will best fit the needs of the local prison context and ensure best value for money. In the meantime, he said, there was a zero tolerance policy in the prisons against drugs and communications devices. Cell phonesare considered contraband in the prisons and staff members are not allowed to have phones in their possession while on duty, he said, noting that the zero tolerance message had been received by both inmates and prison employees.

While there are many phone jamming products on the market, the prison director said that they did not all live up to the claims made in advertising brochures.

“They don’t always do what they say. If and when we do purchase something, we have to ensure that it’s the right fit for Cayman. That takes time,” Lavis said.

Given that Williams made the recommendations more than two years ago and imposed a deadline more than 19 months ago that has not been met, it certainly appears that finding the jamming equipment is indeed taking time.

Lavis also said that any jamming system that is put in place will need to work despite the telecommunications tower, which services both Digicel and LIME, located just outside the men’s prison at  Northward.

“The power from that mast negates the blocker. I have to get a blocker that works and isn’t in competition with that tower. What I don’t want to do is spend money on a system that doesn’t work. Money is limited, even more so now,” he said. “We must ensure value for money, which means waiting to see what the research tells us,” Lavis added.

The director pointed to other means by which the prison was attempting to tackle the phone problem.

“Our intelligence systems have improved and we’re getting a lot more finds than we used to,” he said, adding that the recommendation was not being ignored. “We’re responding to it by doing other things,” he said.

He said that these included properly calibrating the Body Orifice Security Scanner (BOSS) chair and using it with every prisoner that goes through reception and doing daily checks and searches. This was another criticism that the commissioner had made as she found that this expensive piece of equipment, which had been funded with a UK grant, was not being used to search inmates or visitors.

Despite recent reports of inmates using smart phones to post on Facebook from inside their jail cells, among other issues, Lavis said  that prisoners were now subject to more penalties if they were caught with cell phones or cards.

“If anyone is found with a cell phone, then straight away they are taken out of the general population, placed on report and given a heavy punishment,” he said.

As the decision over jamming continues to be discussed by officials at the FCO and the Home Affairs Ministry, which is now responsible for prisons, Lavis said that in the meantime, the policies and procedures that have been put in place to curtail the use and improve the detection of electronic devices would be “rigorously enforced” and those found to have contravened them will face the consequences.

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  1. I wonder says:

    I wonder how many murders have been "ordered" right from Northward Prison..? PS. I hear they hide the phones in the walls od the cell because the cement is so old and soft it can be manipulated like clay.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just tell the Prison Officers that they cannot use their cell phones on duty and you'll probably find that the jamming device works just fine if it is activated. Blaming the machinery which is not switched on is stupidity.

  3. Knot S Smart says:

    Can we bring a guard from Guantanamo Bay to teach our prison guards how to do 'waterboarding' for prisoners caught with cell phones?

  4. A-nony-mouse says:

    Equipment that would overcome the proximity of the cell towers just outside the fence would also severely impact the LAWFUL use of cell phones by the nearby residents.  Anything that would jam the signals inside the prision confines would also jam the signals of outside users.  DUMB IDEA!

    Move the cell sites or tighten the screening on prisoners! Oh, and no, I won't visit my family member anymore if I am subjected to x-rays.  We all get too much exposure now when we travel, and more exposure is more danger to our health.  The TSA is LYING abut the level of exposure to travelers according to an independent lab that tested the equipment.

    Wow, government lying – what a foreign concept!