Inmate Telephone System History

Inmate Telephone Service
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History and Background Information on Inmate Telephone Systems

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, has created guidelines and regulations for the use of telephone systems in prison.

BOP Policy and Inmate Telephone Systems

Inmates need access to telephone systems while in prison so that they can remain in contact with their community family and friends. It is important to maintain this contact to improve their rehabilitation upon release from prison. The BOP’s philosophy regarding inmate telephone use is as follows:

“The Bureau of Prisons extends telephone privileges to inmates as part of its overall correctional management. Telephone privileges are a supplemental means of maintaining community and family ties that will contribute to an inmate’s personal development.”

History of Inmate Telephone Systems

Inmates have always been limited in terms of accessing telephones during their incarceration. For many years, inmates were limited to one collect phone every three months using the existing staff telephones, and only after submitting a written request and receiving written approval. By 1973, the BOP issued a new directive to “permit constructive, wholesome community contact” by allowing inmates to make at least one phone call every three months. New procedures were also implemented to improve prison security by monitoring the phone calls.

In light of these new developments, as well as to help staff cope with the increase in telephone usage, many pay phones were introduced to prisons in the 1970’s. Inmates were then able to make collect calls without the aid of prison staff. By 1976, 31 of the 38 BOP institutions had pay phone facilities allowing inmates to make an unlimited number of calls. When time allowed, officers were permitted to listen in on some of the calls, while other facilities made use of available technology to record certain calls.

By allowing inmates unlimited access to pay phones, the system soon collapsed with one correctional center reporting $100,000 worth of fraudulent calls in 1976 alone. Similar abuse of the inmate telephone systems was reported at different facilities. The problem became serious when it was discovered that threatening phone calls were being made to judges and other government officials. This led to the installation of equipment that permitted BOP officers to listen in on calls when necessary. By 1982, half of all BOP institutions were using the equipment.

In 1983, the inmate telephone systems were used twice to organize a prison break. As a result, the BOP commissioned a task force to reevaluate the programs that were currently in place. They proposed a “four-pronged strategy” to improve prison security and stop the abuse of the telephone systems. The strategy included limiting inmate access to telephones, restricting individual use, and improving the monitoring systems. For several reasons, the proposal was rejected. In 1984, a group of wardens recommended that a new, secure system be put into place. A selection of prisons installed new monitoring equipment on a trial basis, and by 1986, all BOP facilities were to make use of a computer based Automated Intelligence Management System, or AIMS.

In 1988, federal prisons adopted a more stringent way of restricting and controlling inmate calls by implementing an Inmate Telephone System or ITS.

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Inmate Telephone System History


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