Product review: Cellsense is an effective tool in fighting contraband

Cellsense is by far the single most effective tool in the fight against inmate contraband I have witnessed in my thirty-year career with the prison system

By Joel Herron
C1 Contributor

While functioning as the Chief of Security for a state prison system with sixty-six correctional facilities, I witnessed an ever-increasing number of contraband cell phones entering our prisons. It was my determination cell phones and other illegal contraband found their way into our facilities through six basic portals of entry:  compromised staff members, prison perimeter fence throw overs, outside work crews, inmate visitation, vendors and the U.S. mail.

In an effort to combat the increasing numbers of cell phones and other dangerous and illegal contraband already present or attempting to be smuggled into our correctional facilities,  a decision was made to search out technologies to better equip our correctional staff in the detection and confiscation of cell phones and other forms of illegal and dangerous contraband. Our agency initially purchased two Cellsense Units with a plan to deploy the units during large-scale institutional searches supported by members of the Prison Emergency Response Teams.

During the early searches, I realized just how unique and specialized Cellsense was, and that its lightweight and portability made it the perfect tool to move from different locations within the prison and search large numbers of inmates with great efficiency, precision and thoroughness. The more we used the device the more confidence we gained in its ability to accurately detect items of contraband located both on the body and internalized inside the body. The Cellsense device was clearly detecting contraband that would have easily been missed by typical pat and frisk searches, standard archway, and handheld metal detectors.

To further enhance our search capabilities using the Cellsense device, we combined tools and resources already in use and readily available within our prison operations such as, reusable flex cuffs which would not be detected by the device to search inmates in a control status, reliable handheld metal detectors, mobile X-Ray imaging for those inmates suspected of internalizing cellphones or other contraband, locking toilet lids to better control inmates in Dry/Close Observation cells (to prevent cell phones or other detected contraband from being flushed or dropped in the toilet) and K-9's trained to detect cell phones. Combining these tools and resources resulted in increased numbers of confiscated contraband in half the time it would have normally taken to complete a large-scale search.

I in no way wish to diminish the importance of typical search tools and equipment found in most correctional operations such as archway walk thru metal detectors, handheld metal detectors and trained cell phone/drug detection K-9's as they all form a multi- pronged approach when combating contraband within our correctional facilities. The last time I checked, there exists  no one technology that offers the "magic bullet."

Archway walk thru metal detectors do offer a very good detection capability and serve an important role. However, inmates realize that items of contraband with a smaller ferrous foot print or contraband that has been internalized inside the body may not always be detected.

A good quality hand held detector is critically important in all correctional settings. The hand held detector coupled with a good head to toe search allows staff to isolate specific types of ferrous contraband. However, like the archway metal detector, contraband with a smaller ferrous footprint or contraband that has been internalized inside the body may possibly be undetected.

Trained cell phone detection K-9's are extremely effective when searching for contraband cell phones, especially inside the inmates' cell or living quarters. However, K-9's, when searching steadily, will tire after a certain amount of time and may become less effective in the search process. Also they can detect on residual odor of the cell phone even if it's not present at the time of the search. K-9's cannot detect ferrous metals and can miss other dangerous contraband such as shanks, razors, tattoo guns, lighters, batteries etc. The Cellsense device in comparison, will not tire, and only detects on ferrous material.

I still remain a firm believer in conducting searches by hand using available human resources for the most optimal search outcome. However, it was my observation that combining the Cellsense device into the search process greatly reduces the amount of time it requires to complete the search, thus reducing potential overtime costs incurred by the facility. Additionally, staff conducting the search clearly remain more focused and produce a more effective search when they are not as tired. Incorporating the Cellsense device into the search process also has a powerful motivating psychological effect on those staff conducting the search as they see the fruits of their labor in detection and confiscation of increased numbers of contraband not typically found during traditional searches being conducted without the Cellsense device.

Additionally, we discovered the Cellsense device was the perfect tool for searching inmate mattresses and pillows. We were amazed by the amount of contraband the device was locating and how quickly we could accurately search these normally difficult and labor-intensive items. As a result, we developed three different search techniques for searching mattresses and pillows.

The first was to remove the Cellsense pole from the base unit and lay it horizontally across two milk crates leaving a space wide enough to slide the mattress underneath the device. The second technique was to designate two search team members who were divested of any ferrous material to take hold each end of the mattress along with the pillows and walk by the device. The third technique was to have the inmate walk by the device with his mattress folded over his arms holding his pillow on top with his hands.

As a result, over a nine month period of time, over 400 contraband cell phones and large numbers of other dangerous items of contraband such as homemade shanks, razor blades, tattoo guns, needles, lighters, battery chargers and homemade battery packs were confiscated utilizing the Cellsense devices. I personally witnessed staff morale and safety of our prisons increase throughout our agency as a direct result of the capabilities of the Cellsense device.  Cellsense is by far the single most effective tool in the fight against inmate contraband I have witnessed in my thirty-year career with the prison system.

Joel Herron was formerly Chief of Security for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety-Prisons.  He retired last year and has launched a consulting practice.  Cellsense is now one of his clients. He can be reached at

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2022 Corrections1. All rights reserved.