Magazine article Corrections Forum

Inmate-Gate

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Inmate-Gate

Article excerpt

Stearns County Jail in St. Cloud, Minnesota, has the ordinary phone fraud challenges that irritate correctional officials everywhere. Harassment calls, death threats and narcotics deals over the phone are, unfortunately, run-of-the-mill occurrences among the incarcerated.

With upwards of 150 beds, as well as 60 inmates in work release programs who regularly use the phone system for all their calls, many violations are spelled out over the phone here. Jail supervisors monitor the calls inhouse to see who is going to work, says Jeff Pollreis, jail programs and resource coordinator. "We often hear, 'honey, I'm not going to work today. I'll be over in a little while."

County staff also frequently solve cases regarding jail fights. The Dictaphone Freedom digital recorder they use begins recording as soon as the handset is lifted off the hook. This allows you to hear valuable background noise and ambient conversation, Pollreis says, or conversation the caller has before the call is dialed. "It makes a solid case," he maintains.

When time permits the jail also does proactive work, listening for two or three hours to live monitoring via their Malco live monitoring system. Primarily, however, personnel use the digital recorder, which instantly retrieves messages. Listening to audio play-back is easy. It is simply a matter of retrieving calls by scrolling through a list of calls on a monitor in the computer switch room. It is also a snap to sort calls by creating any number of custom filters. For example, you can sort by inmate, PIN, phone number, partial phone number, area code, time, date, etc.

Often jail staff subsequently turns this data over to prosecutors and other investigators. For instance, information about drug deals is provided to investigators on a routine basis, says Pollreis. One case that stands out in the five years that the system has been in place are the homicides of two informants that were averted.

While corrections staff live monitored the phone conversation, an offender who was locked up for a drug offense called his girlfriend and told her to order a hit on an informant. Meanwhile he told her he was going to kill a second informant who was with him "inside." At the time, staff monitoring the call could hear him hitting someone. By the time officers could intercede, the second informant was already in the midst of a beating. But in the end, the aggressor was thwarted and prosecuted and his girlfriend also arrested before she could carry out the plan.

Recordings Convict

As those in the field of corrections know, offenders don't stop being a criminal once they are in custody, says Sgt. John Ness, with the Classification Unit of the Alemeda County Sheriff's Department. Being inside, "just facilitates their criminal behavior or businesses." That means they talk and brag on the phone, despite layers of warnings in policy and procedure handbooks, in posted signs and even prerecorded messages as they are making calls. "They tend to blow it off," says Ness. "It's the easiest vehicle to get to the outside."

Located in the San Francisco Bay area, ACSD is the third largest detention facility in the state of California and the fifth largest in the nation, according to Ness. Calls of all 4,000 inmates are recorded, he explains, so as not to discriminate. California laws are very strict about recording, he notes. …

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