Kevin Fisher in 2018

Kevin Fisher

“Let States Jam Prison Cellphones, Says US Attorney Sherri Lydon” — Wall Street Journal, April 4

And with that nationally prominent op-ed piece, South Carolina’s United States Attorney struck a blow for sanity in the prison system. Here’s to her.

Picking government’s biggest outrage (be that at the local, state or federal level) is tough. After all, it’s a target-rich environment (be that at the local, state or federal level).

But certainly the feds have staked a claim to the (dis)honor with their failure to stop inmates from using cellphones to commit additional crimes while in prison.

It’s worth reading that mind-boggling but true phrase again: failure to stop inmates from using cellphones to commit additional crimes while in prison.

Even more mind-boggling than the problem itself is that the solution is readily available and easily implemented. It’s a relatively simple matter of technology involving jamming cellphone signals at prisons, which would render the contraband devices useless.

This would put a stop to the nonsense of convicted criminals using cell phones to run drug rings, engage in various other criminal enterprises and arrange murders and other violence in the outside world … all while serving time in prison.

As Lydon wrote in her guest opinion column: “We do not put criminals behind bars only to have them continue their criminal enterprises from inside prison … but until our state and local partners are permitted to jam cellphone signals in prisons, inmates with time on their hands and unrestricted access to the internet will continue to perpetrate crimes.”

While contraband cellphones and their use in criminal activity is a major problem in South Carolina prisons, state authorities can’t jam the cellphone signals at our own corrections facilities due to the federal government controlling telephone access through the Federal Communications Commission.

That means federal action is necessary (through either new legislation, new regulations or both) to give states the authority to jam cellphone signals at state prisons.

While this is an issue that has been both recognized and rapidly growing for years, the federal government has done nothing about it. Fortunately, Lydon has stepped up from within the U.S. Department of Justice to call for this obviously needed action.

How obvious is that need? Consider just a few of the examples Lydon offered of South Carolina cases her office has prosecuted, as reported by The State:

“In one case, inmates were using cellphones to smuggle large amounts of methamphetamine from California to South Carolina. In another, an inmate conspired to kill his wife with a mail bomb by communication with a cellphone. Lydon also referenced a massive phishing scheme involving inmates scamming members of the U.S. military.”

Nor is it just those on the outside who are at risk from prisoners and cellphones. The story continued: “Cellphones are even taking the blame for the deadly riot at Lee Correctional Institution in April 2018. Seven inmates died in the skirmish over cellphones and other contraband … and 22 more were injured, officials said.”

Lydon maintains that the only way to stop the threat of illegal cellphones in prisons is to disable the signals that serve them, something which is currently prohibited by a federal law which dates back to 1934.

Then what in heaven’s name is Congress waiting for? To once again state the obvious, whatever may be in that antiquated (technologically and morally) law could never have anticipated the current situation.

The law clearly needs an update to put an end to crime behind bars using cellphones, and only out-of-touch (or on-the-take, more on that in a moment) lawmakers could possibly object to Lydon’s proposal.

While some have suggested that certain elements of the cellphone industry object to parting with the revenue they get from massive prison cellphone use and are seeking to influence elected officials to keep the status quo, let’s hope the delay in dealing with this issue is about the pace of government rather than the pockets of politicians.

Regardless, the lack of action to date has been unconscionable. Even for government.

But South Carolina’s U.S. Attorney has blown the whistle on this insanity. Hopefully, Congress hears her.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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