“If inmates were blocked from using contraband cell phones, we could prevent serious levels of drug trafficking, deadly riots, and other crimes from happening,” the prosecutors wrote.
To be able to render the phones — smuggled inside hollowed-out footballs, whisked in by corrupt employees and sometimes even dropped by drone — worthless, prosecutors are calling for a change in a nearly century-old federal communications law that currently prevents state prisons from using jamming technology to nullify illicit cell signals.
The push to clamp down on illicit cellphones in state prisons has been ongoing for years, with South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling at the forefront of an effort by corrections directors across the country to call for the ability to use more technology to crack down on the contraband phones.
An incremental victory came in 2021, when the Federal Communications Commission adopted a ruling that would allow state prison systems to apply for permits to identify and turn off illegal cell signals, one by one, in collaboration with cellphone providers. South Carolina was the first state to apply to use this technology, but Stirling told AP on Tuesday that no action has been taken on the state's application.
Federal prisons are allowed to jam cell signals behind bars, although none currently do, Stirling said.
CTIA, a wireless industry group, opposes jamming, saying it could thwart legal calls. But, according to a 2020 FCC document, CTIA told the commission “it has been working successfully, along with its members companies” on “ceasing service to contraband devices pursuant to court orders they have obtained.”
Calling combating contraband phones “a serious issue," CTIA officials said in a statement to the AP that the "wireless industry remains committed to working with corrections officials and policymakers at all levels of government to implement effective solutions that combat contraband phones while protecting lawful communications.”
FCC officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on a renewed push for jamming.
Congress has previously considered jamming legislation, but no bills have been signed into law or even had a hearing. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., reintroduced such a measure in August in the previous Congress.
“We’re not going to stop advocating,” Wilson told AP on Tuesday. “I can only hope that at some point, Congress is going to take note.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP