Inmates in federal correctional facilities aren't allowed to have cellphones or any other connected devices. But where there's a demand there will be a supply and contraband materials always find their way into prisons.

To make sure that contraband can't be used to further criminal or other illegal activities, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is looking for a contractor that can create a blackout zone within prison facilities while still allowing authorized devices to function normally.

RFI: Communications Blackout of Unauthorized Electronic Systems

The bureau issued a request for information at the beginning of the year — which was reopened on March 23 — asking about the private sector's ability to "actively or passively prevent inmates from utilizing any type of contraband electronic communications device."

BOP contracting officials noted broad communications jamming is illegal, so the proposed solutions would have to offer other means of detecting and blocking signals from prohibited devices.

Jamming could be a potential part of a larger solution, however it is incumbent on the vendor to explain how they would get the proper authorization to use such equipment on U.S. soil.

Specifically, BOP is looking for solutions in which:

  • The equipment does not impact or collect information from the general public who are located outside the secure perimeter of the facility (i.e. area of coverage).
  • The equipment can detect as many communication protocols and frequencies as is technically feasible.
  • The equipment can possess the ability to distinguish contraband devices from authorized devices.
  • The equipment possesses the ability to detect contraband devices and how they are accessing (or attempting to access) outside communications (e.g., using Wi-Fi via X wireless network). The equipment must possess the ability to carry out detailed forensic analysis of contraband devices and the data being transmitted.
  • The equipment has the ability to record and store audit history of the device including present and past activity.
  • The equipment is able to identify the physical and network locations of contraband devices.
  • The equipment can terminate/block communication of contraband devices.
  • The equipment has the ability to allow communication of authorized devices.
  • The equipment is ruggedized against environmental impact, including tamperproof or tamper-resistant.

Along with being able to meet these requirements, respondents are asked to answer 23 questions to gauge their ability to deliver on this unique need.

Contracting officers are looking for a high level of detail in the responses, "Including describing actual hardware, any necessary software, any peripherals required and any configuration required to support the solution," according to the RFI. "A response that simply states that the vendor's solution is compatible with the specified requirement where a narrative response is required will be considered non-responsive for that question."

The full list of questions is included in the RFI document linked above.

BOP has also answered a number of contractor questions from the initial request, which can be found here.

Responses to the RFI are due by noon on March 30 and should be sent to

Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.

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