OCC wants to jam prison cell phones

A strip search incident that occurred in December at Fairbanks prison has led the Cayman Islands government watchdog to propose cellphone signals be jammed at both of the Islands’ adult lock ups.

Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams last week found the 4 December, 2010, strip search of three teenage female inmates at Fairbanks to be retaliatory, in dispute of a government investigation’s findings which said the search was not capricious or retaliatory.

Two cell phones and sim cards were found during the search, which was conducted one day after some inmates wrote complaint letters about prison guards. Following the nighttime search in the dorm – during which two of the inmates had to be wrestled to the floor – one of the guards was heard to say “that’s what you get for writing letters about officers”.

In general, the complaints commissioner states strip searches are intrusive and there are a number of other methods the prison service might use to find contraband such as cell phones.

Phone-jamming technology is one of those options, Ms Williams said.

“Since, realistically, it is virtually impossible to stop cell phone and BlackBerry use in prisons, this is a sensible, viable and – in the long-term – cheaper alternative which would avoid regular and repeated use of strip searching as a means of retrieval,” she said.

Judging from the number of cell phones and sim cards recovered within the men’s prison system, it would seem Commissioner Williams’ statements about “virtual impossibility” are well-founded.

According to Freedom of Information requests filed within the past year, 74 cell phones were recovered at Northward Prison during 2010. The prison service had no record of strip searches being conducted prior to property searches [cell searches] at the time any of those phones were found.

Ms Williams said land line phones would remain unaffected by cellphone-jamming equipment.

“The minor inconvenience it would cause to staff wanted to use cell phones and BlackBerrys for personal use would be far outweighed by the benefits,” Ms Williams stated in her recommendations to the government. “Phone-jamming equipment is currently used in prisons in many countries including; France, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden and is currently being considered for use in prisons in Germany and the United Kingdom.”

The prisons service has a detailed policy on when and how strip searches should be used. Among those instances include when contraband is believed to be stashed in the prison.

To the average person who doesn’t spend a lot of time in prison, cell phones might seem a harmless device. But Eric Bush, the deputy chief officer of the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs – which has responsibility for law enforcement in the Cayman Islands – said prison officers work in a different world.

“In the hands of individuals [a cellphone] can be used as a method or tool to orchestrate chaos and murder,” Mr. Bush said.

The three prisoners in the Fairbanks cell on 4 December had never been in prison prior to their incarceration in 2010. Two were being held for armed robbery and the other on conviction for causing death by driving while under the influence of alcohol.

According to the portfolio report, the prison’s security director contacted Prisons Director Dwight Scott by telephone to inform him of the prisoner search that night. There was no evidence any written authorisation for the strip search was given by the prisons director, but Bush said previous prisons policy did not require that.

Three female prison officers entered the dorm around 9.30pm on 4 December, 2010. They were supported by two other female guards and three male guards who did not enter the dorm itself, Mr. Bush said.

“Nothing was found as a result of the strip search,” Mr. Bush’s report read. “A property search was then conducted by the same three female guards of the dormitory. Two cell phones with sim cards were found as a result.”

Ms Williams’ finding of retaliation in this case has the potential to open up the Cayman Islands government to major civil liability over the 4 December strip search incident.

“[Strip searches of prisoners] could not only put both the prison and the Cayman Islands government in violation of human rights protections, but [could] also leave both entities open to potential lawsuits,” Ms Williams said.

Search rules

According to prisons search policies examined by the Observer, prison officers may use “reasonable force” to conduct a strip search if a prisoner refuses to comply with a search.

The policy states: “An officer shall not use force unnecessarily in dealing with a prisoner and, when the application of force is necessary, no more force shall be used than is necessary. Any case in which force has been used shall be reported in writing to the director immediately thereafter.”

A copy of this policy was stamped and dated 13 October, 2011. It was not clear whether it had taken effect prior to that date.

The prisons system has also installed and implemented the use of the Body Orifice Security Scanner or BOSS, which will be used to compliment normal prison searching techniques.

It consists of a non-intrusive and harmless scanning system within a moulded chair, designed to detect metallic objects, such as mobile phones and their component parts or weapons concealed within body cavities, the abdominal area and other areas around the body.

According to prison search rules, the BOSS chair can be used on prisoners or visitors “on any occasion where a search would normally be warranted”.

The chair can be used to assist in pat-down searches during visits or routine searches of prisoners upon entry to the lock up.

“It may also be used following a full search in instances where suspicion remains that a metallic, illicit item is concealed internally, and – in the case of male prisoners – a squat search has failed to reveal the item,” the prison search policy states.

The BOSS technology was only recently introduced for use at Her Majesty’s Prisons in the Cayman Islands. It was a donation from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


  1. If you decide to jam cell phones in the prisons, an idea which I support, then be prepared for an inmate backlash such as what happened in 1999. The inmates are not used to rules or any enforcement in the prisons but this wouldn’t upset them as much as removing all drugs from the prisons.

  2. that is absolutely ridiculous that inmates at a prison can use cell phones… that would never happen in the States.

    To say you can’t control it means that you need to step it up and stop running a half-way house… what a joke.

    No wonder the criminals on the island have no fear.

  3. What is interesting so many readers are missing the real point of this story. The OCC investigated and found that officers retaliated on three teen girls because they filed a complaint letter, as by law is their right. If the focus of the strip search was to retrieve an illicit phone then why would one of the guards shout out after the search that’s what you get for writing letters about officers? . Let us all try and use our intellect, why were three teen girls at Fairbanks strip searched for a cell phone yet 74 phones were impound at Northward without a strip search? That spells retaliation.
    Agreed , cell phones should not be allowed at Northward or Fairbanks. Nevertheless if you are going to strip a few female teens to find a bulky, cumbersome item such as a phone without first performing a standard pat down or search of their property , why do the guards not impose the same derogatory treatment on men. Pusillanimous is the only answer.

  4. The OCC may be entitled to its view, but it was not the only investigation and it is not at all clear that it was the best investigation. I can’t imagine that any major civil liability will result considering that the facts would have to be reviewed in court.

  5. A few questions arise:

    How do they get the phones in the first place? I assume that visitors carry the phone to them but is a search conducted before/after the visit to ensure that what went in come back out?

    When you are found guilty of a crime and sent to prison dont you lose your rights (except human rights of course) comforts are taken away from you and you are segregated from the rest of society and phones directly allow prisoners to ‘reenter’ society so to speak.

    How do they charge their phone? Wall plugs in cells?

    Cell phone blocking devices are used in many many libraries and no one complains (ar at least ppl complain and they are still used) so why are people complaining about using these devices in prisons?

  6. Regardless of why, how, whom they did to, PRISONERS. should not be allowed to the right to have cell phones. Just in case they do not know the definition of prisoner:captive-person held physically,prisoner of his behavior,slave
    The antonyms of this is: free man, independent, and they aren’t. Those individuals are
    convicts,criminals,repeater offenders.
    they have abused the trust of the community and they should not have the privileges of liberty – which they have not due to yet.

  7. Okay, lets see if i got this prospective.

    They complained that the prison officials stripped searched for phones.

    Then there is others that are complaining and asking why are thier phones in the prison in the first place.

    So they come up with a brilliant solution. Where no ones persons gets violated. Prison officials are not put in harms way. And the cell phones will be taken care of once and for all.

    NOW…we have people complaining that they have a solution to the problem.

    Can the RCIP or prison officers ever win?

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