How Neb. corrections is using inmates' contraband against them

Inmates find all kinds of ways to make contraband cellphones work for them. Now, authorities are finding a way to make the phones work for them, too


By Becky Lewis
Tech Beat Magazine 

Facebook postings. Drug deals. Adult movies. Conversations with loved ones. Across the country, inmates find all kinds of ways to make contraband cellphones work for them. 

In Nebraska, correctional authorities are finding a way to make the phones work for them, too. 

“Although we’ve had a few issues in our community centers, where inmates go outside on work release, we haven’t really seen a cellphone explosion yet,” says Jeff Peterson, intelligence coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS). “We keep a vast amount of data on our inmates, such as financial data and visitor information, and we data mine all of it. We use the cellphones we have found in the same way. We have the ability to extract data, and we have the ability to link it with our other data. We have the ability to take the cellphone records obtained through subpoenas and extraction tools, and data mine this as well. We have the ability to do link analysis to further our investigations.” 

Nebraska has dug deep for data for about five years, resulting in the ability to instantly provide a snapshot of an inmate that includes all of his associations inside and outside the correctional facility, who he’s been working with and what he’s been doing. Investigators within NDCS and from state and local law enforcement agencies know they can turn to the department’s intelligence program whenever they quickly need information about an inmate. 

Peterson says NDCS considers itself a partner with law enforcement agencies because it provides a product that helps with investigations on connections within the system, or with background checks on inmates who are about to be discharged. Pulling information from confiscated cellphones helps complete that picture. 

Peterson discussed his agency’s program at the Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice (NIJ) August 2013 Technology Institute for Corrections, which focused solely on the topic of contraband cellphones in correctional facilities. 

“The problem in Nebraska is small and we want to keep it that way,” he says. “We’re small compared to a number of the other agencies who sent representatives to the NIJ Technology Institute for Corrections. We have 4,800 inmates compared to, well . . .compared to a whole lot.” 

Although the smaller inmate population in part leads to smaller numbers of confiscated phones, Peterson also says Nebraska does a good job of seeking out and finding phones. 

“We just believe we have good sound security,” he says. “We believe we do everything extremely well. We do good searches. We do good intelligence. We have a canine that searches for cellphones. We feel we have a good overall security process that limits what is coming in, and a good overall intelligence process that makes the most out of what we do find. NDCS is always looking to improve the overall security procedure/operation within NDCS, and makes every effort to ensure that we are doing the best possible job to stay in front of emerging trends, and reviewing the best possible practices available.” 

For more information on Nebraska’s data mining and intelligence efforts related to contraband cellphones, contact Jeff Peterson at (402) 479-5912 or jeff.a.peterson@nebraska.gov

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