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Detecting and Managing Cell Phone Contraband: An Overview of Technologies for Managing Contraband Cell Phone Presence and Use in Correctional Facilities

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages

This “technology brief,” part of a series of documents on contraband in corrections, presents an overview of technologies for managing contraband cell phones possessed and used by residents of correctional facilities.


The brief notes that continuous advances in cell phone technology make disruption and deterrence of their use a challenge in securing a correctional facility against their possession and use by residents. It also indicates that technologies for cell phone detection may be limited by their range or the need for cell phones to be powered on and in use at the time of detection. The brief advises that the current cell phone detection technologies with the most promise for use by correctional facilities are those that enable radio-frequency detection (RFD). RFD technology can locate a cell phone signal or recognize the presence of cellular components being trafficked at multiple locations within a facility. There are emerging technologies, such as micro jamming and managed access systems, that disrupt and disable cell-phone signals; however, disadvantages relate to potential interference with federal policies, high cost, and the fact that cell phones may still function through Wi-Fi for other communication methods. For smaller correctional facilities, mass “shakedowns” of housing units and recreation areas using metal detectors or FMDs may sufficiently deter cell phone use. For larger institutions with high numbers of cell phone confiscations, physical search methods combined with disabling technology may provide the most effective countermeasure. 10 figures

Date Published: January 1, 2021