Officials have a hard time keeping cell phones away from crafty prisoners. But they could keep the phones from working, were it not for the Federal Communications Commission’s intransigence.
Technology now allows for cell phone signals to be blocked in very specific areas. For example, tests show that systems could jam cell phones within the confines of a prison, without interfering with signals on the outside.
In South Carolina, such a system could have disabled the 2,500 cellphones reporter Glenn Smith recently reported were confiscated from the state’s prisons during 2011.
Instead, illegal phones are used by prisoners to intimidate victims, arrange for crimes against people outside the prison, plan escapes or simply talk to family members and friends.
That’s because the FCC doesn’t allow jamming devices. Indeed, it claims to be aggressive in stopping the practice, calling for fines of up to $112,500 per act and, ironically, jail time.
The FCC may waive the law in certain circumstances. Also ironically, for example, some federal officials are allowed to use cell phone blocking devices.
South Carolina’s Department of Corrections has led an unsuccessful nationwide campaign to persuade the FCC to reconsider its ban. The prison cell phone problem is widespread, and potentially deadly. In California, for example, 15,000 cellphones were confiscated in prisons during 2011.
Thwarted thus far, California and Texas are considering a different technology that blocks non-approved numbers. Each prison would get its own cell tower. Prison officials could control all incoming and outgoing calls. Unless a phone number is approved, the call would not go through.
Citizens are frustrated to think that contraband so easily makes its way behind prison walls. Short-staffed and underfunded prisons in South Carolina have been unable to stop it. That is not likely to change.
Technology is available and functional to render contraband cell phones useless. That technology should be legal for prisons to use.