Convicts have free run with phone in jails

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Central prisons in Kerala are finding it increasingly difficult to curb the illegal use of mobile phones by convicts.

It has become a security issue for the law enforcement because the current situation potentially allows criminals to orchestrate felonious actions from the insularity of prisons. It also defeats the judicial purpose of sequestering law- breakers to protect society.

The stark reality was recently evidenced by the detection of two cell phones allegedly used with impunity by convicts at the Central Prison here last week.

Jail officials say the seizure grabbed headlines only because the suspects were those serving life for the murder of RMP leader T. P. Chandrasekharan.

They say that mobile phones and SIM cards often turned up during searches. Mostly they were found abandoned or destroyed, making it difficult to identify the user. However, the suspects are stripped of their privileges and the police notified.

A confluence of factors appears to have caused illegal use of mobile phones to continue unchecked in prisons. For one, the mobile phone jammers at the three Central Prisons in Kerala have proven to be ineffective and fallen into disuse. They had drastically lowered the reception quality in the localities and network providers simply shifted bands to satisfy their clientele, thereby rendering the devices useless.

The security camera systems at Central Prisons are largely defunct due to lack of proper annual maintenance. Surveillance blind spots are many and these are often used by convicts and corrupt officials for illegal activities such as mobile phone use.

Overcrowded prisons and inadequate staff strength has forced jail administrators to employ ex-servicemen and contract employees as temporary wardens.

They are responsible for minding the prisons and patrolling the blocks at night. It is possible that some of them are a conduit for contraband into jails, including cell phones. Most are rarely frisked at the gates. The police intelligence has proposed routine mobile surveillance methods to identify and blacklist those temporary staff who facilitate the illicit use of phones in prisons.