Former Corrections Officer Finds an Ally in Fight Against Contraband Cell Phones

Robert Johnson had worked at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina for fifteen years when that career was cut short by a home invasion and attempt on his life in 2010. Johnson had the task of catching inmates smuggling contraband into the prison and confiscating it. It was when he helped intercept a $50,000 package destined for a prison gang that they decided to have him assassinated.


At 5:30 in the morning on March 5, Johnson had gotten up for work when the front door of his home came crashing down. A gangster who’d been newly released from prison proceeded to shoot Johnson a half-dozen times. Johnson narrowly survived the attack after nearly two dozen operations.


The attack was ordered, and the hitman paid, from within the walls of Lee Correctional Institution using a smuggled cell phone and a Greendot card. Johnson retired as a corrections officer, but he has made his experience the inspiration for a new career as a consultant for Securus Technologies, a prominent communications company that serves the law enforcement and corrections industry.


The FCC held a hearing that Johnson attended in March to decide how to handle the growing problem of inmates using contraband cell phones in prisons around the country. Federal regulations have made it illegal to outright jam cell signals in public spaces because it prevents 911 calls from being made. A different solution, however, exists that has been developed by Securus Technologies that stops unauthorized cell phone use in prisons.


That solution is called Wireless Containment Solutions. Essentially, it places a cell tower between a prison and the nearest cell service tower to intercept cell phone activity and drop unauthorized use before it can connect to the cell network.


The problem got widespread attention when a Facebook Live video went viral this year of an inmate in Evans Correctional Institution, Jose Rivera, holding a knife. He’d been a repeat offender of using smuggled cell phones.


“While still disturbing, fortunately this latest news is just about a video,” Johnson said, noting that what he fears most is seeing cases like his own, in which an inmate arranges a crime to be committed outside of prison, that puts the public at risk. The new regulations approved by the FCC make it possible for solutions like Securus Technologies’ WCS to put prevent it.


Securus Technologies has its head office in Dallas, Texas and serves over three thousand law enforcement and correctional institutions with telecommunications solutions. The company has already invested over $40 million in the development of WCS to solve the problem of inmates using contraband cell phones.