The Department of Corrections’ prison cellphone blocking project won the 2009 Computerworld Excellence in the use of ICT in Government Awards, held at Te Papa in Wellington last night.
When the department decided it needed to block cellphone calls within prison property, it faced the challenge of precise blockage, so the cellphones of nearby neighbours weren’t affected. That’s because many prisons in New Zealand are sited in large cities and towns with close neighbours.
The objectives of the project were to stop prisoners communicating with non-authorised people, using mobile phones to communicate with external associates with a view to escape or orchestrating crime, and ensuring prison security is maintained.
The department says the project has greatly reduced criminal activity from within prisons.
The project was a joint venture with Telecom and Vodafone because they own the spectrum. The telcos provided information to allow jamming to be successful on their networks and audited the installation to ensure leakage was identified and resolved.
The Corrections project team is now supporting countries such as Australia and Fiji, which are interested in implementing cellular jamming.
Of Corrections’ entry, the judges said “Australian prison administrators did not believe the project would be successful but are now exploring the use of the same approach in Australian prisons. Officials from other countries including England, Scotland, Germany, and Thailand, are seeking help and advice from Corrections about implementing this approach.”
The other finalists in the awards were the Ministry for the Environment, for its Land Use and Carbon Analysis project, Landonline for online property search technology, and the Department of Internal Affairs, for its online births, deaths and marriages project.