T&T prison inmates having a ball on Facebook


By Marcia Braveboy

Some Trinidad and Tobago prison inmates are having a ball on Facebook from behind the prison walls.

News Americas Now has accessed some Facebook profiles of inmates who have been taking pictures of themselves (known as selfies) and posting them on Facebook. This is in spite of the latest crackdown and seizure of hundreds of cell phones at the Golden Grove Prison in Arouca in recent times.

About two days after the crackdown last year, some inmates were updating their profile pictures. Facebook technology showed they were using blackberry and other types of phones to engage with their Facebook friends and members of the public.

Head of Communications at the prisons Wendell Bompart told NAN that officers do not make it a practice to add inmates to their Facebook profile so it is a challenge monitoring such activities.

NAN has been able to access the Facebook profiles of some prisoners who change their profile pictures on a regular basis and who have even taken pictures of themselves and posted the pictures on the leading social networking site.
This laxness in security is prevailing at a time when the police have high suspicions that the assassination of State prosecutor Dana Seetahal could have come from behind the prison walls.

This is one of two other theories police assigned to investigate the execution of the prominent attorney are making inquiries into. They also believe her prosecuting role in the high profile case involving the kidnapping and slaying of Vindra Naipaul-Coolman could be a factor. The police are also looking at a possible link to the casino where she was liming minutes before she was murdered.

Seetahal was forced to stop her Volkswagon SUV on Sunday May 4, around 12:05 am when a station wagon car pulled up in front of her. It was a fatal decision; as immediately, a panel van also pulled up alongside her vehicle and riddled her with bullets. She died on the spot. Police say 12 shots were fired into Seetahal’s vehicle with 5 bullets hitting her in her head and chest.

So how much is the public at risk with prisoners having illegal access to communication technology while incarcerated?

“Everyone is at risk” Bompart admits. But even without cell phones, there are many ways they can get their messages out and call hits on people” Bompart said.

In spite of the fact that a phone card is the main currency in the prisons due to the number of prisoners with phones in their possession, Bompart still thinks hits being called from behind the prisons walls are at a minimum.
He says even with a zero tolerance approach to the “no cell phones rule” in prisons, prisoners still pose a threat to anyone because they have different modes of communicating. Like talking in codes when family members visit them so the supervising officers are still not able to comprehend what is being communicated.

“Any method we put in place to deal with the criminal process will be helpful, but you can’t just say it will eliminate the crime or such threats” cautioned Bompart.

Some of the prisoners make their profiles secret profiles and this means not everyone can find them. However, NAN found other intelligent ways to access such profiles even when these prisoners go incognito.

Encouraged by persons on their profiles, these inmates can be seen responding to comments made by their friends who sometimes compliment what they post.

Bompart said all this is possible because of the challenges the prisons face in closing the holes in the system that make it possible for cell phones to get into the hands of inmates.

“They will find 50 to 80 cell phones and the very next day somebody will have a phone” Bompart admitted. “We have a unit trying to crack down on rogue officers and we are not doing too badly, officers trying to come into the prisons with phones for inmates.”

The cell phone in prison is a serious issue even to the lives of officers, Bompart tells the NAN; so they make regular checks to cut down on contraband in the prison.

“There are so many ways contraband comes into the country, not just in Trinidad alone… the reason for the laxity is there could be one officer not doing his job, you have inmates going in and out of prison for court matters, you search them going in and out, yet the problem persists” noted Bompart.

So could the very prison officers who help prisoners to a phone be assisting some prisoners to carry out hits on members of the public?

“I wouldn’t say they use prison officers to carry information or call a hit on someone, I do not believe they have that trust in officers and an officer also puts himself at risk if he does that” Bompart explains.

The prison is now looking at implementing a machine called “cell-grabbers”, which Bompart expects to be in place as soon as the government signs off on it.

The cell-grabber is a mobile interception device that is portable and is used to intercept cell phone calls, text messages and data transmission off-air, in the surroundings that the phones are being used; in this case, the prisons.

“IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) Grabbers are devices which allow the user agency to detect the identifying mobile parameters, IMSI and IMEI, within the operational area of the equipment. An investigating agency needs one or other of the parameters in order to set the mobile phone user of interest as a “target”. The ability to be able to detect a target within a defined area brings obvious benefits to the user agency.”

“The Digital RF Cell-Grabber gives you the ability to rapidly deploy IMSI surveillance at any location to meet operational needs. Housed within a rugged mobile carry-case or in a static installation, the Cell-Grabber is highly portable and fully pre-configured, providing multi-network coverage at the touch of a button to locate, isolate and deny access.”

Bompart assured NAN that more vigorous checks will be made to at least lessen this kind of engagement by the inmates.

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