The Efficacy of Managed Access Systems to Intercept Calls from Contraband Cell Phones in California Prisons

Author(s): Harper, Charles; Worden, S. Pete; Beddell, Don; Cates, Bobby; Feng, Deb; Gilstrap, Ray; Hunt, William; Notley, William; Williams, James; Carver, Brian W.; Diamond, Pat; Goldstein, David; Mantey, Pat; Hackwood, Susan; Martin, Lora Lee

Release Date: May 8, 2012 | Last Updated Date: February 17, 2015


This report is in response to a July 7, 2011 letter of request to CCST from four California State Senators (Senators Elaine Alquist, Loni Hancock, Christine Kehoe and Alex Padilla). The senators asked CCST to provide input on the best way to prevent cell phones from getting into the hands of inmates and, if they do, how best to prevent calls from being completed without impairing the ability of prison authorities to make and receive official business cell phone calls. In addition, they asked CCST to undertake a study on the feasibility of Managed Access Systems (MAS) technology as an effective strategy to curtail the use of contraband cell phones in the California State Prisons.

Key findings

  • Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons are a Growing State and National Security Issue
    In 2011, approximately 15,000 contraband cell phones were confiscated at the California State Prisons. This represents only the cell phones found, not all phones in the facilities.
  • Inconsistent Screening at State Prisons
    Screening of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) personnel and visitors entering and leaving the prisons was found to be less rigorous than screening found at a normal airport security screening access point.
  • Existing and Evolving Complexities of Signal Capture
    There are significant technological challenges to effective implementation of MAS and other approaches based on the evolving capabilities of mobile devices. This includes capabilities seen in mobile devices in the marketplace today and the anticipated future capabilities of commercial mobile devices including satellite phones.
  • MAS Technology Not Yet Proven for Prison Environment
    CCST finds that the Managed Access System (MAS) technology of today is not mature enough for immediate large-scale deployments such as that proposed by CDCR at California’s 33 state prisons.
  • MAS Efficacy Protocols Not Defined
    CCST notes that there is no evidence that CDCR has fully or reliably identified the size of the contraband cell phone problem or a mechanism to determine the efficacy of a MAS when deployed.
  • Baseline Benchmarks Needed
    To evaluate the effectiveness of an installed MAS, a baseline measure of contraband cell phone usage must be done prior to implementing a MAS strategy.

Additional Downloads

Letter to Senators Alquist, Hancock, Kehoe, and Padilla


Fact Sheet (Report Overview)


Findings & Recommendations


Related Publications

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