The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been disastrous from many different perspectives. But there was one positive thing that came from them. Over the course of the conflicts, the increasingly urban nature of the battlefield meant that, even in the furthest reaches of the Middle East, cellular communications were prevalent as a means for the enemy to organize itself and direct its forces.
In response to this, the U.S. military developed a system that it called Stingray. The high-tech device was able to intercept all local cellular communications by tricking the devices in the area into thinking that it was a cellphone tower. This meant that all signals would be routed through the Stingray device, allowing the operator to either listen in to the calls or completely block them from making their way onto the cellular network.
It turned out that the American prison system was facing many of the same threats posed by cellphones that U.S. forces in the Middle East faced. Prison gangs were using these devices to direct members to carry out hits on rival gang members, complete major drug sales and even kill and intimidate witnesses in upcoming trials. Additionally, cellphones quickly became hot commodities within the nation’s many jails and prisons. A single cellphone could fetch as much as $300. It could then be resold for an even higher amount of money or it could be rented out, recouping the entire purchase price in as little as a couple of weeks.
The havoc that these contraband cellular phones and other devices wreaked can hardly be overstated. By the mid-2010s, contraband cellphones and other cellular devices had become epidemic within the U.S. prison system. They were posing an existential threat to the safety and integrity of the nation’s penal system. Something had to be done.
It was then that Securus Technologies, one of the largest providers of inmate communication and prison security services in the country, came up with an ingenious solution. Securus was able to devise a version of the Stingray system that had proven so useful on the battlefields of the Mideast in order to intercept all contraband cellular calls being placed from within the nation’s prisons.
The system was first deployed on a trial basis in 2016. It didn’t take long for prison administrators to realize that they had a winner on their hands. Institutions where the device was deployed saw a near total elimination of illegal cellphone calls. So effective was the device that the FCC actually banned it from operating in urban prison settings, fearing that the WCS would interfere with legitimate cellphones nearby.
Today, the Wireless Containment System has nearly full FCC approval. It is estimated to be deployed at nearly half of the nation’s carceral facilities by the end of this year.