Tennessee prisons will lead the way an effort to clamp down on one of the most common contraband items nationwide. The state will soon begin on-site forensic analysis of smuggled cell phones.
That requires specialized computers, which can extract a range of cell phone data, including call logs, contacts and messages. They’re already used in law enforcement offices, but now Tennessee will introduce them in all of the state’s prison facilities.
The devices are another step in the fight against contraband, says Lee Dotson of the Tennessee Department of Correction. He also says there’s a misconception surrounding cell phones.
"A lot of folks think that the use of a cell phone in prisons is for someone’s son or daughter to reach out to their parents or other family members," says Dotson. "That’s just not the case."
With costs for inmates to use prison phones down significantly, Dotson says today, cell phones are predominantly for gang or drug-related activities, though the department says it has no exact numbers.
Donna Turner, who directs the agency’s investigations office, says Tennessee is receiving the first federal grant to install these cell phone forensic capabilities on-site.
"We will be kind of a boilerplate for the rest of the nation, to see if they can use that technology to help them in their efforts as well," says Turner. "It’s all about having that combined front to stop criminal activity, whether it be in our facilities or our communities."
Turner says having the machines in prisons will speed up intelligence gathering on both inmates and the people they’re communicating with on the outside.