California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a vision to enhance public safety and promote successful community reintegration through education, treatment, and active participation in rehabilitative and restorative justice programs.  Here’s how they’re making that vision a reality.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is the governing body for 34 institutions and nearly 100,000 incarcerated adults statewide. Source: CDCR website.

Corrections facilities at the state and federal level, and indeed globally, face many challenges. Crimes including drug trafficking, gang-related violence, human trafficking, threats to officers, gambling rings, and even murder for hire can be perpetrated by incarcerated individuals who continue to carry out criminal activities from inside corrections facilities.

These activities not only affect the safety of correctional employees and those incarcerated who seek rehabilitation, but they also impact communities that surround where corrections facilities are located, and beyond.

While the challenge of creating a safer environment inside and outside of corrections is formidable, there is a way forward. By using Digital Intelligence to lawfully collect data from contraband cell phones and other digital devices, corrections teams can take a huge step toward ensuring that those who are convicted of crimes cannot continue their criminal activities once incarcerated.

Contraband cell phones allow criminals to continue to perpetrate crimes both inside and outside of corrections facilities. Lawfully collecting data from these devices is critical to ensuring the safety of corrections personnel, other incarcerated persons, and the communities surrounding their facilities. Source: Shutterstock

The road to creating a safer environment starts by following three key steps:

  1. Detect and Intercept contraband (drugs, tobacco, and cell phones).

  2. Access the information on these devices and cross-reference that intelligence with what other inmates are doing—not only inside one facility but across the network of all statewide and federal corrections institutions.

  3. Share that information with outside agencies to stop criminal activities in surrounding communities being perpetrated by those inside corrections facilities.

Stemming crimes being perpetrated inside and outside of correctional facilities require swift action to develop a Digital Intelligence strategy, update infrastructure to easily share information, and invest in the training necessary to keep investigative teams one step ahead.

One agency that has a clear vision of how to create a safer environment for all concerned is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Their mission is “to facilitate the successful reintegration of the individuals in our care back to their communities equipped with the tools to be drug-free, healthy, and employable members of society by providing education, treatment, rehabilitative, and restorative justice programs, all in a safe and humane environment.”

As one tool to fulfill their mission, CDCR has put a plan in place to develop an information technology strategy and implement systems capable of managing both current needs and anticipated growth.

CDCR’s journey to embrace technology as part of the solution for creating a safer environment that allows incarcerated people to follow a path to rehabilitation is one that corrections managers across the globe are watching. And the benefits are clear:

  • The number of contraband devices is reduced
  • Incidents of violent crimes are lowered
  • Staff members and other incarcerated persons are better protected
  • The safety of surrounding communities is enhanced

Here’s how they’re doing it.

Recognizing The Problem

As the governing body for 34 institutions and nearly 100,000 incarcerated adults statewide, CDCR was quick to acknowledge that without digital solutions to lawfully collect, manage, and analyze data from contraband devices, their investigators were limited in their ability to:

  • Prevent harm to staff members by identifying threats and disrupting activities being conducted with contraband phones by incarcerated persons inside prison walls, and in the outside communities from which they came.

  • Gather data into a manageable solution that integrates information from existing systems across CDCR facilities and divisions to expedite the dismantling of criminal networks.

  • Partner with external law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and stop crimes that could potentially affect millions of California residents.

Making A Shift

One of the big challenges CDCR faces is the fact that in the last 10 years, incarcerated persons have become far more tech-savvy. Not long ago, kites (hand-written notes) were the means by which incarcerated persons communicated. Today, contraband cell phones are used in communicating everything from death threats to warning others of impending shakedowns, money transfers for goods and services (i.e., drugs, cell phones, violent acts), and more.

prison phone contraband
Embracing Digital intelligence solutions has allowed CDCR to provide critical capabilities for their team members to control the data sources, automate data processing, visualize criminal networks, and share data to create an environment that’s safer both inside and outside of their facilities. Source: Shutterstock

Addressing this threat required CDCR to redouble their efforts to reduce the influx of digital devices as much as possible, which is accomplished through searches, the use of electronic scanners, K-9 units, and more.

Using data lawfully collected from contraband devices presented a new opportunity for investigative teams to disrupt criminal activities and curb violence inside and outside of their facilities. Doing so has brought investigators and their IT counterparts closer together as partners, expediting the time it takes to gather and process evidence, resulting in more efficient investigations.

As Tammy Irwin, Chief of Contraband Interdiction and Safety Solutions, described, “There is a tight engagement between IT and investigative staff, who share the same public safety mission. We are here to research their challenges and bring forward technical solutions.”

Stopping crime in institutions results in safer environments for those who live and work there, creating more room for the important rehabilitative work being done to further stop the cycle of crime and violence.

“There is no doubt that contraband cell phones are a danger inside correctional institutions, and we will never stop our efforts to eliminate them completely,” said Bryan Bishop, Special Agent in Charge, Office of Correctional Safety. “However, the tools that allow us to lawfully harvest the data on a phone enable us to investigate and stop crimes from happening.”

Designing the Architecture

CDCR didn’t get to where they are today overnight; however, fighting crime on this scale takes dedication, planning, and skilled investigators armed with the right digital solutions to collect, analyze, and manage data to render actionable intelligence.

Achieving this goal required setting up an architecture that answered the question: once you confiscate a phone, what do you do with it to create an environment that’s safer inside and safer outside?

CDCR has answered this question by embracing Digital Intelligence solutions that provide critical capabilities for their team members to:

  • Control The Data Sources
  • Automate Data Processing
  • Visualize Networks
  • Share Data

Now, staff can see the whole picture to dismantle and disrupt criminal networks.

  • Investigations can be simplified in one coherent workflow to review texts, images, videos, and documents shared between persons to map the connections between those involved in criminal activities.

  • Powerful analytics solutions can take thousands of media files and categorize them automatically, saving hours of manual review.

  • Collaboration with internal departments, other institutions within the CDCR network, and external law enforcement agencies is made much simpler thanks to easily shared watch lists, tags, notes, and built-in reporting features.
Cellebrite solutions provide the perfect collaboration tool allowing CDCR personnel to share information between their own facilities and departments as well as with local police and outside agencies to help break up criminal networks beyond their institutions. Source: Cellebrite

Rethinking The Workflow

To gain access to the growing number of encrypted devices, Bishop and his team utilize Cellebrite Premium. Once the encryption is defeated an analyst processes the phone through the UFED 4PC. This entails data collection, processing reports, and tagging points of interest that could be notable to an investigator. Those are tagged within the UFED Reader, and then given to investigative staff.

Cellebrite’s complete, end-to-end digital platform transforms the investigative workflow by automating many tasks. This frees up time for key stakeholders to concentrate more fully on all of the evidence gathered from contraband phones. Source: Cellebrite

All of the data is securely stored so that there is an audited trail of the digital evidence that’s been lawfully collected: who collected it, what device it came from, what day, when, and whether that device was handed off to another individual. This ensures real protection of the digital chain of evidence.

In larger cases where evidence may need to be shared with outside agencies, Bishop’s team assists in getting the evidence where it needs to go, many times sharing through one of their task force officers who is working with a federal, state, or local agency.

Training Is Key

The best architecture and workflow in the world, however, is only as good as the personnel who run it. CDCR makes sure its investigative employees are continually trained, up-to-date, and comfortable with the latest technology. Having qualified people using these cutting-edge technologies is key to success.

Cellebrite Training Academy
Having the best platform and workflow is only as good as the personnel who run it. This is why CDCR managers stress constant training sessions to keep their staff members up to speed on the latest digital technology solutions. Source: Cellebrite

“Keeping our correctional and custody staff trained in the use of the tools and making sure that training is available is paramount,” Correctional Administrator Bryan Donahoo said, “because we do have turnover. People are promoted, retire, and change jobs, so we are constantly looking for ways to keep training fresh and ensure the staff receive the necessary training to do their jobs.”

Having trained staff that are up to date on the latest solutions is also helping CDCR to share valuable intelligence and collaborate with outside agencies faster and easier.

Building Tight Relations With Outside Agencies

CDCR builds relationships with other Department of Corrections agencies, as well as local, state, and federal agencies.

Working together collaboratively with partner agencies not only keeps a finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there in the community but also helps us disseminate intelligence.

The benefits of this close collaboration and sharing Digital Intelligence have helped expedite justice in a number of cases.

How DI Is Solving Crimes Faster

When asked how Digital Intelligence solutions are helping to solve crimes inside and outside of their facilities, Special Agent in Charge Bishop described a case where information lawfully collected by corrections investigators helped solve a homicide outside of one of their facilities.

“I think one of the best examples was where we had two individuals talking via a communications app, thinking that it’s encrypted, not knowing that we have the ability to see that data once we extract that phone. And in those conversations, they were discussing a homicide that was going to take place. In fact, they were discussing which vehicle they should use and where to get the vehicle to do the drive-by in this particular city.”

An investigator alerted the local police department, who had been working to solve a homicide, and the agencies began working together to obtain a subpoena for the phone and lawfully extract data from it. Two weeks later, an arrest was made as a direct result of the shared intelligence.

Data from a contraband phone were also used to locate the source of contraband drugs, as investigators used timestamps to identify when, who, and how illegal drugs were brought into an institution.

Digital Intelligence - The Key to Solving Criminal and Corporate Investigations
CDCR’s journey to embrace technology has many benefits. The number of contraband devices is reduced, incidents of violent crimes are lowered, staff members and other incarcerated persons are better protected, and the safety of surrounding communities is enhanced. Source: Shutterstock

A Multi-Layered Strategy

While digital Intelligence solutions are critical to CDCR investigations, they are only part of what Captain Melanie Bruns described as a multi-layered strategy.

“On the front end,” Bruns said, “it’s going to be your correctional staff, boots on the ground, conducting searches. It’s going to be your investigative monitoring of trends and activities. It’s going to be working to interdict the contraband, whether it be drugs or cell phones.

Linking intel from investigators, sources, electronic interdiction, and the information lawfully obtained from contraband cellphones is key to success.

The Road Ahead

Looking ahead to what CDCR might look like in five years, Chief Irwin summed it up this way, “What I’d really like to see is that we have that multi-layered approach that Melanie [Captain Bruns] referenced, and we’re able to collect data on all of the tools that we have so that we’re making data-driven decisions on what provides us the greatest impact to solving these problems.”

Chief Irwin also stressed that creating a safer environment is an ongoing process that never stops. “We’re constantly looking for the technologies that serve as the best detection, interdiction, and extraction tools, across the nation [and] around the world…What’s another way of doing it? What’s a faster, more efficient, less expensive way to do it? Where do we get the biggest bang for our buck because the cost is a factor? What has the greatest returns on our investment to help us get ahead of this problem?”

Considering all they are doing, creating a safer environment in which incarcerated individuals can truly rehabilitate while protecting their staff members and the communities that surround their facilities is clearly a challenge that CDCR is overcoming and a process that other corrections institutions can follow to create safer conditions inside and outside of their facilities no matter where they are.