Magazine article Corrections Forum

Recommendations for Management of Inmate Telephone Privileges

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Recommendations for Management of Inmate Telephone Privileges

Article excerpt

The Office of the Inspector General review of the Bureau of Prison's (BOP) inmate telephone system found that a significant number of inmates use prison telephones to commit serious crimes fi including murder, drug trafficking, and fraud. The BOP has been aware of this problem for more than a decade, but to date has taken limited corrective action to address this abuse.

Implementation of a new inmate telephone system-ITS II-will not be the cure all that some BOP officials apparently are counting on. In fact, given the lack of understanding and use of the security features in the existing telephone system, ITS II will have little impact on the BOP's efforts to detect telephone abuse by inmates.

The BOP deserves credit for the difficult job it does maintaining order in its institutions. However, it also has a duty to protect the public from inmates who continue to commit crimes from prison. The BOPis concentration on this first objective fi maintaining order n has come at the cost of turning a blind eye to inmates who use prison telephones to commit serious criminal activity in the community.

Based on our review, we believe that the BOP should take steps to curb prison telephone abuse in four ways: 1) increased monitoring of inmate conversations and more efficiently targeted monitoring; 2) increased and more consistent discipline of telephone abusers; 3) proactive telephone restrictions for inmates who have a history of telephone abuse or a likelihood of abuse; and 4) refocusing SIS officers to detect and deter crimes committed outside the institution by inmates using BOP phones. The OIG offers specific recommendations in each of these four areas.

Monitoring of Inmate Telephone Calls

The BOP must increase the percentage of inmate telephone calls it monitors on an ongoing basis if it expects to make any headway on the problem of inmate telephone abuse. While additional resources will be helpful, the reality is that given the high volume of inmate calls, the only realistic solution is to reduce the call volume so that BOP staff assigned to this task can monitor a greater percentage of calls. Towards this end, we make the following recommendations:

* The BOP should impose limits on all inmatesi telephone privileges. The 1997 Warden's Working Group recommended 300 minutes per month, an arbitrary figure arrived at without examining data on inmate telephone usage. The BOP should research this issue and develop a recommendation for limiting the number of minutes that inmates can use the telephone which takes into account inmate calling patterns and the number of calls that can be effectively monitored by available staff.

* The BOP currently monitors less than four percent of all inmate calls. This is an unacceptably low percentage to detect and deter criminal conduct by inmates. We recommend that the BOP set a significantly higher goal and then calculate the resources needed to meet this goal. Undoubtedly, this will require two things: more staff assigned to monitoring inmate telephone calls and fewer inmate calls.

* All the BOP institutions should have telephone monitors on duty at all times that prison telephones are available to inmates. Hours of telephone operation may have to be limited to make this possible. Our review showed that 19 of the 66 ITS institutions have monitors on duty less than 50 percent of the time the telephone system is operational.

* The BOP must do a better job identifying inmates with a high probability of abusing their telephone privileges and institute a plan to proactively monitor their calls. Attempts in the past by the Intelligence Section to institute a proactive monitoring program have failed. We recommend that SIS Offices improve proactive monitoring at the institutions and train institution-level SIS officers in this proactive monitoring approach.

* The BOP should install stateof-the-art recording equipment in all of its institutions. …

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