Prisons are awash with mobile phones, allowing inmates to continue a life of crime unhindered by locked doors and barbed wire. Why is technology not being used to stop them?
Thousands of mobile phones are confiscated in UK prisons every year and many more – smuggled in or thrown over the wall – go undetected.
They are a valuable illegal resource – costing between 400 and 1,000 just to borrow.
The government’s National Offender Management Service (NOMS) seized 7,451 mobile phones and Sim cards in prisons in England and Wales in 2013.
Using them, inmates had “commissioned murder, planned escapes, imported automatic firearms and arranged drug imports”, NOMS said.
“The problem is widespread.”
Machine-guns were smuggled into the UK by a prisoner organising the crime by phone from his cell.
Judge David Farrell QC called the “wholly inadequate” prison security that had allowed the crime a “scandal”.
The mother of an inmate in HMP Northumberland claims “the place is full of mobile phones”.
“You’ve got people throwing mobile phones over the fences and then there are prisoners who have access to the grounds so they’re bringing them in,” she says.
Glyn Travis from the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) says the jail is far from unique.
“Drugs and mobile phones are freely thrown into prisons” with delivery by drone “completely undermining the external security that protects the public”, he says.
Sodexo, which runs HMP Northumberland, said “staff worked hard to stop illicit items getting into the prison using a range of technical and intelligence measures”.
But the fact that so many phones make their way into prisons despite security precautions goes some way to explaining how hard it is to find and remove them.
The obvious solution, says the POA, is to make them unusable.
Mobile phone jammers or grabbers – which block signals or divert them away from their intended destination – are readily available.
But NOMS says the expense is “disproportionate”, at up to 300m to fit and 800,000 a year to maintain.
However, technology installers, such as US company Cell Antenna’s Howard Melamed, have been downplaying the cost of the technology for years.
Steve Rogers, the managing director of electronic counter measures company Digital RF, says the UK’s wide variety of prisons – large, small, new-build, Victorian, open, high security – makes pricing “very difficult”.
“How do you value this, that’s the question, isn’t it?” Mr Rogers says.
“When you work out that value then you can say whether it’s affordable or not.”
The 2010 Crime and Security Act made possessing a mobile phone in jail punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
But inmates do not worry about punishment for crimes committed inside, Mr Travis says.
“I don’t know why they should fear the fact that, if they get prosecuted – and I use the word if they get prosecuted – by the CPS and the police, and then they go to the courts and they may get a 12-month concurrent sentence.”
Prisoners in HMP Northumberland know they are not allowed mobiles, but “lots of them” have them nonetheless, the inmate’s mother says.
Last year the government awarded a 60,000 contract to explore the use of mobile phones in prisons – how to stop them getting in, find those that do and disrupt those which cannot be located.
The previous year the Scottish Prison Service announced plans to pilot blocking technology at HMPs Shotts and Glenochil.
But NOMS specifically excluded such “prohibitively expensive solutions”, despite a change in the law in 2012 permitting their use in prisons.
Then, in 2015, the Serious Crime Act introduced the possibility of regulations giving the government – and ministers in Scotland – the power to force mobile phone operators to disconnect illicit phones and Sim cards.
Notably, the authorities would not need to find the phone to have it cut off.
The regulations are still to be enacted. A Prison Service spokesman said they would be “introduced in due course”.
But disconnected Sim cards and phones are soon replaced, Mr Rogers says.
And cutting people off is not in the commercial interests of organisations that make money “making sure people stay on air”.
“They only have to get one or two people wrong and they could be in a quite interesting legal situation,” he says.
The POA has been lobbying for signal blockers for years, raising it with MPs and each successive government.
“Every year they say ‘we can’t afford it, we’ll do a pilot scheme, we’ll do this’ and, whenever they try to do it, they say it causes too many problems – absolute rubbish,” Mr Travis says.
Mr Rogers favours grabbing technology because prisons can see how many handsets have been disabled and to whom they belong.
Blocking can sometimes leave small spots where a signal might break through and its effect is hard to quantify, he says.
The prisons he works with can only measure success by the number of phones thrown in bins by inmates not wanting to risk punishment for an illicit item that no longer works.
The Prison Service accepts jails are “in need of urgent reform” and it has to “look at new ways of finding and blocking mobile phones as well as as equipping prison officers with the right tools to tackle them”.
It lists detection equipment, routine searches, CCTV, sniffer dogs and penalties – but is very reticent about its position on blocking technology.
A spokesman refused to say whether the 2012 legislation permitting the use of “signal-denying” technology had ever been used.
He also refused to comment on which publicised pilot schemes had taken place or what conclusions on cost and effectiveness they had come to.
The POA believes blocking or grabbing would not only control prisoners, it would “have significant impact on the general public”.
When the “people who’ve committed some of the most heinous crimes” can organise more crime from inside a prison, “how safe are your children?”, Mr Travis asks.
Guns and wall-to-wall star-spangled patriotism are the National Rifle Associations way of projecting a rugged image of strength to its members, but they also point to the steady current of hysteria throughout American history
A frightened population is obedient.
Hunter S Thompson
Im not scared about going to jail. Somebodys got to do something to knock the fear out of these negroes.
At the 145th National Rifle Association annual meetings and exhibits, you could see and purchase replica flintlock muskets like the kind Daniel Boone used, wardrobe handguns the size of a cellphone, a carriage-mounted 1883 Gatling gun, historic firearms from the Renaissance down through the latest Surge, bullet-splat jewelry, deep-concealment holsters, triple barrel shotguns, and camo everything coolers, flasks, four-wheelers, deer blinds, infant-wear and sexy-time lingerie.
There was a motorcycle with a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the handlebar (sorry, not for sale); all manner of scopes, optics, and laser-sighting technologies; shelf-stable food products; bulk ammo, precision ammo, make-your-own-ammo ammo; historical exhibits; mom-and-pop purveyors of cleaning fluids and swabs; and corporate icons with slick, multi-level sales areas worthy of a luxury car showroom.
And the flag, everywhere, all the time, the stars and stripes popping from pistol grips, knives, banners, T-shirts, shawls, bandannas, product brochures and shopping bags. American, America, sweet land that we love. A photo spread for a well-known US gun manufacturer featured a whiskery, camo-clad, Viagra-aged caucasian male standing in ankle-deep marsh with a dog by his side, shotgun slung across his back and a large US flag in one hand, the pole planted in the muck as if staking a claim.
A country, a product, a lifestyle. That word shows up often in firearms ad copy, as in: We find peace in the solitude of this lifestyle, and we thrive on all the great outdoors has to offer. But on this rainy opening day of the NRA convention all the action was indoors. Eleven Acres of Guns & Gear, promised the banner in front of the Kentucky exposition center, a thuddingly nondescript series of enormous beige boxes that inhaled thousands of conventioneers without so much as a belch. How big is 11 acres? Felt like a hundred, which isnt to say that this conventioneer was the least bit bored.
Stock soars as FTC chair says the investigation focused less on the label or shutting dieting supplements operations down, opting for the less severe charge
Dieting supplement sales company Herbalife dodged the pyramid scheme designation on Friday as it agreed to pay the US Federal Trade Commission a $200m fine. The FTC said Herbalife cheated hopeful salespeople out of hundreds of millions of dollars with a high-pressure multi-level marketing scheme.
Herbalifes stock received an immediate 15% increase following the news. The company also announced that it would hire a second former FTC commissioner in a press release describing the terms of the settlement.
The FTC required the company to restructure its operations so that it tracked and rewarded sales that ended in purchases by consumers, rather than that it allegedly hoodwinked junior retailers.
The regulators chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, said the FTC had stopped short of branding Herbalifes tactics a pyramid scheme or shutting its operations down, opting for the less severe unfairness charge.
We focused less on the label, Ramirez said. Herbalife issued a press release saying it would allow activist investor Carl Icahn to purchase an increased maximum 34.99% of the companys stock Icahn already owns about 18% of the companys stock.
The company is required by the FTC to pay for an independent compliance coordinator; that coordinator will be a board headed by former FTC chairman Jon Liebowitz. The company already boasts one FTC commissioner, Pamela Jones Harbour, in its executive suite; Harbour will specifically oversee the changes to the way the company rewards its distributors.
I have the greatest confidence in Herbalifes CEO, Michael Johnson, Icahn said in a press release. Johnson, who ran the company throughout the scandal was at one time the highest-paid CEO in the US, though he did lose his bonus in 2014.
The company promised people a dream: a chance to quit their jobs, change their lives and gain financial freedom, said Ramirez. Instead, the LA-based company paid out almost exclusively to employees who pressured other people to buy into the program at a cost of about $2,000 apiece. Herbalife enjoyed revenues from members in some of the worlds poorest countries, notably Ghana and Zambia.
A career selling Herbalifes products to consumers was effectively worthless, Ramirez told reporters on Friday; the only way to make money was for salespeople to buy its products in bulk, pressure new recruits into joining the company and then sell those products to the new employees.
The average amount that more than half of the elite members known as sales leaders received in a year for recruiting others into the Herbalife program was less than $300, Ramirez said. Far more made nothing or lost money on the initial investment.
Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management said in 2012 that he would short the companys stock and that his firms target price is zero because we think the business will fail and pledged to donate all proceeds from Pershing Squares short position on the companys stock to charity.
The companys stock price has risen in the subsequent years.
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Bored by his tedious job in New York, Jeffrey Tannenhaus, 35, removed a bicycle from the citys bike sharing scheme and headed for California. Here is his story
Every morning, 35-year-old Jeffrey Tannenhaus would walk into his windowless office, sit down next to a fake bougainvillea, turn on his computer, and perform mind-numbing task after mind-numbing task until, eight hours later, it was time to leave. The next day he would do it all over again.
The French have an expression for this: métro, boulot, dodo. Commute, work, sleep. Nothing in English really captures the relentless rhythm of the rat race so well; the closest we get, perhaps, is the metaphor of modern life as a treadmill. Most of us know what its like to be on one, and most of us have had the urge to jump off. But it gets harder to do it as you get older: while theres a certain amount of leeway to reinvent yourself in your 20s, by the time youre in your 30s, youre supposed to have it figured out.
But Jeffrey hadnt; the only thing he had figured out was that if he wanted to do something different, hed have to, well, do something different.
So one afternoon, Jeffrey walked out of his windowless office, terminated his lease in Brooklyn and became a sort of middle-class vagabond. Instead of paying rent, hed dog-sit or cat-sit or apartment-sit. When there was nowhere to sit, he would use Airbnb. To make money he freelanced as a transport escort; a fancy name for the people who hold up signs at the airport and then take you to a minivan.
While he was doing all this he was coming up with a plan. It was a vague, borderline illegal, and fairly pointless plan. But it was a plan.
In August 2015, Jeffrey took a Citibike out from a docking station in lower Manhattan to ride it across America, all the way to California.
Citibike, for those who arent familiar with it, is New York Citys bike share program. The bikes are designed for short trips, not for jaunts across the country.
Quite apart from the fact that its against the rules, taking a Citibike across America is not ideal for a number of reasons.
First, if you dont return the bike after 24 hours you get charged the maximum overage fee, which is $1,200.
Second, Citibikes weigh 45 pounds and riding them is like pedaling a tank.
Third, if something major goes wrong with your Citibike, pretty much only Citibike can fix it.
So why didnt the guy just spend $1,200 on a decent bike and take it across America? Well, because Citibike is Jeffreys passion. He likes Citibike a lot. Like, a bit too much maybe. His Citibike commute to work, he says, used to be the best part of his day. It was the only thing that got him through the tedium of a job he hated.
And then, of course, theres the fact that some guy riding a normal bike across America is not exactly a story. A man riding across the country on a Citibike, though, is kooky enough to be number 8 on New York Magazines reasons to love New York.
How cognizant was Jeffrey of the press-friendly, quirk-factor of taking a Citibike where no Citibike had ever been? I ask him. Was this passion project really just a canny grab for attention? Jeffrey assures me otherwise. Its not a publicity stunt. There are far easier ways to get publicity that dont involve five months on a giant blue bike.
Jeffrey was speaking to me on the phone from Redlands, California. He had, indeed, spent five months on a giant blue bike now, and was planning to finish up his trip on 23 January.
When he set off he had no idea how far hed get, he says. So the only people he really told about the project were his parents. They were supportive, but also a little anxious. Jeffrey has cycled solo down the Death Highway in Bolivia and been to places like Colombia and Myanmar without his parents worrying. But this is America were talking about. Middle America.
When he said he was going solo across the States, I was concerned, said Edward Tannenhaus, Jeffreys dad. What popped into my mind immediately was Breaking Bad. The evil underbelly of America in the south-west.
To get to the evil underbelly of America from New York, you have to go through New Jersey. So Jeffrey pedaled through New Jersey then he pedaled and pedaled and pedaled until he reached the Chesapeake Bridge in Maryland. The Chesapeake Bridge has been described as one of the scariest bridges in the world. There are special drive over services that will drive you in your car. Rumour has it that some people ask to be put in the trunk during the drive over, because its that scary. Jeffrey did not want to cycle over this bridge on his bike, and took a taxi instead.
I mention this because, if you want to get technical about it, Jeffrey hasnt made the trip across America entirely on Citibike. At certain points hes had to hitch a short ride. But hes still done 2,930.1 miles to date on the bike, which isnt too shabby, particularly when you factor in that Jeffreys preparation for the trip was minimal.
Hed done zero training and hadnt bought any special equipment. Hed just set off in his gym clothes and sneakers with a sleeping bag and a one-man tent hed bought from Amazon. This became a little problematic when, in Arizona, it started to snow.
Jeffrey didnt have any winter gear, so he used three pairs of socks as gloves and listened to some German pop music to take his mind off the cold.
For the most part, Jeffreys dad was wrong. The evil underbelly of America is more of a soft, sweet underbelly. People were very nice to him. Except for the would-be axe murderer, that is, whose name is Franklin.
Jeffrey met Franklin on an old part of Route 66, just outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jeffrey was resting by the side of the road and Franklin was driving past in his pickup truck. On seeing Jeffrey, and his bike, Franklin stopped, got out of his truck, and started a diatribe about how much he hated cyclists. Just in case Jeffrey wasnt getting the message about how much he hated cyclists, Franklin punched Jeffrey in the face, leaving him needing stitches.
As it turns out, this was a pretty lucky escape. Later that evening Franklin went on a murderous rampage; breaking a baseball bat on a friends head and trying to kill his neighbor with a double-sided axe. He was later cornered by the police and turned himself in.
As well as angry men with axes, Jeffrey came across a few violent racists. In El Dorado, Texas, the owner of a local carwash told Jeffrey that there used to be an Indian mini mart owner down the street, but he got run out of town. Then, in western Missouri, Jeffrey found himself in KKK country. He got himself out as fast as he could.
But, yes, apart from the violent racists and axemurderers, most of the people Jeffrey met were kind and accommodating, especially to a white guy.
When Jeffrey got a flat tire, a guy who worked at a health-food cafe helped him out and insisted he came along to the cafe to drink protein shakes. Everyone at the cafe wanted to talk to Jeffrey about his trip and also, weirdly, measure his body fat. (He has 9% body fat and his metabolic age is 12.) Herbalife can truly change your life if you will just let it, one customer whispered to him.
Speaking of which, I asked Jeffrey how much this trip had changed him physically. Had he gotten buff? Jeffrey told me that, while he feels healthier mentally, he has not become ripped with a six-pack. Largely this is because he is drinking a lot of chocolate milkshakes and eating a lot of Skittles while on the road. But thats OK, he said: Becoming an Adonis wasnt on my agenda.
This brought me to my next important question. Had there been any romance on the road? No, no significant romantic relationships have been established, he said. What about insignificant ones? Had he been Tindering his way through the midwestern US? No, no I havent used Tinder, says Jeffrey. Because, you know, I was only somewhere for one day normally, and then I moved on to the next place. I explained to Jeffrey that this is precisely what Tinder is designed for, but he didnt seem interested (eventually he told me he had been texting with a girl in Tulsa he quite likes).
What place will he remember not so fondly? Santa Claus, Indiana, is one of the more depressing stops, he said. This shouldnt really be the case because in Santa Claus, it is always Christmas and festive music is always playing: it is Americas Christmas Hometown. Among the towns many Santa-themed attraction are a Santas Candy Castle and a 40-ton, 22-foot concrete Santa Claus statue. There is a shopping center called Kringle place, owned by HO HO HOldings.
Real people actually live in this place; most of them in a gated community called Christmas Lake Village, which was developed by billionaire Bill Koch. This is somewhat ironic, as Koch has poured money into fighting attempts to combat climate change. When the North Pole melts and the real Santa Claus drowns, Bill Koch may have had a very small part in killing Christmas.
Mind you, Christmas was already pretty much dead when Jeffrey got to Santa Claus. Everything was shut and there was nowhere to stay. He slept behind a church in his sleeping bag.
Now that Jeffrey is at the end of his journey, I asked him what hes going to do next. The first thing hes going to do, said Jeffrey, is find a way to get the CitiBike back to New York and dock it. He is, I think, a little bit sensitive about some blog articles and comments that have basically called him a CitiBike-stealing douchenozzle.
The New York blog Brokelyn, for example, wrote that Jeffrey: should have been met at the California border by the NYPD Its a bike share system, not a bike return it after youve gone on a cross-country journey while trying to find yourself system.
This is a little unfair. Jeffrey has, after all, paid $1,200 for the CitiBike, which must be a lot more than it costs to replace a CitiBike.
I contacted CitiBike to verify this but they didnt want to talk about anything connected with Jeffrey. They are not entirely happy about his actions. This is slightly short-sighted considering, as Jeffrey pointed out, that hes given the bike-share program a lot of free publicity. His story, he hopes, will inspire more people to take up bike-sharing and, perhaps, also prompt others to take a risk and follow their dream.
After all, offices everywhere are filled with people doing mind-numbing tasks and daydreaming about something else. Flawed as the cult of follow your passion is, theres a lot to be said for being brave and cycling off into the sunset. Although, Im sure CitiBike would like me to ask you to, please, do it on your own bike.
The man orchestrating Donald Trumps rise by letting the candidate be himself has entered the spotlight after allegedly assaulting a reporter and its not the first time he has courted controversy
When Donald Trump decided towards the end of 2014 to make a bid for the most powerful job in the world, one of his first tasks was to appoint a manager to run his presidential campaign. The name he landed on was pure Trump: a former lobbyist for the seafood industry who had never run a national campaign, who had staged debates in public with a cardboard cutout, and whose only claim to fame was sneaking a gun into the US Capitol.
And so it came to pass that Corey Lewandowski became the behind-the-scenes mastermind of one of the most bewildering political campaigns in history. In no small part, Trumps unlikely rise from maverick outsider to frontrunner on the verge of securing the Republican party nomination must be credited to this 42-year-old, who himself has undergone an astonishing ascent from the relative obscurity of New Hampshire politics to stand at the real estate billionaires side.
Lewandowskis approach to the campaign is summed up in a simple slogan that so far has proved to be devastatingly effective: Let Trump be Trump. As the Wall Street Journal noted, he has scrawled the phrase over a white board in his office in Trump Tower. Yet the dynamic could just as well be reversed: Trump has run his campaign under the rubric Let Lewandowski be Lewandowski.
That logic was played out this week when Trump continued to defend Lewandowski even after his campaign manager had committed the cardinal sin of any political sidekick by becoming the story. On Tuesday, police in Jupiter, Florida, charged the aide with simple battery after Lewandowski was accused by a reporter for a pro-Trump rightwing website of forcefully grabbing her at a rally.
The details of the alleged incident are grubby. The former reporter for Breitbart, Michelle Fields, was trailing after Trump asking him questions at the end of a press conference on 8 March when she was suddenly yanked by the arm by a man with a buzzcut answering to the description of Lewandowski. A social media firestorm ensued in which Trumps campaign manager accused Fields of being delusional as I never touched you, only to have the reporter post a picture of her bruised arm.
The subsequent release by Jupiter police of video footage captured by Trumps own security cameras at the hotel venue clearly showed Lewandowski grabbing Fields and pulling her away from the candidate.