FCC considers cell phone blocking options for US state prisons
By MEG KINNARD
The Associated Press
COLUMBIA – Federal regulators plan to allow state prisons across the country more technological options to tackle contraband cellphones, which prison officials have long posed as the greatest security threat behind bars.
The Federal Communications Commission plans on Tuesday to discuss “take action to combat contraband wireless devices in correctional facilities,” according to the agenda of an online meeting that was first reported by the ‘Associated Press.
The commission should not tackle the widespread jamming of cellular signals, which correctional officials say will help them make contraband phones unnecessary for inmates, who use the devices for unhindered and unattended communication. .
Instead, the mechanism the regulators envisioned would allow authorities to use technology in state prisons to identify specific smuggled phones used by inmates, and then send that information to mobile operators, who could cut off the signals.
It’s a step that South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling says is in the right direction – though she’s shy of the total cellphone jam he has called for. Stirling has for years denounced the dangers posed by devices smuggled into institutions by the thousands.
“I am encouraged that the commissioners are voting on this very important public safety rule,” Stirling told AP Thursday. “If this passes, I think it has the potential to make our prisons, our states and our country safer.”
Stirling has been at the forefront of efforts by directors of corrections across the country to demand the ability to use more technology to crack down on smuggled cell phones, thousands of which are confiscated in prisons every year , smuggled in hollowed out soccer balls, carried away by corrupt employees and sometimes even dropped by drone.
He and other directors of state prisons have argued for the possibility of jamming signals entirely, thereby rendering illicit telephones unnecessary, but this is not allowed under current federal law.
CTIA, a wireless industry group, opposes the jamming, saying it could thwart legal calls. But, according to a 2020 FCC document, the CTIA “recently reported to the Commission that it is successfully working, with its member companies” on “the termination of service to contraband devices in accordance with court orders they have obtained “.
There have been other developments on the issue. In 2008 and again in 2019, South Carolina was granted federal approval to conduct jamming tests at two maximum security prisons.
In 2017, Stirling testified at an FCC hearing in Washington alongside Robert Johnson, a former South Carolina prison officer who was nearly killed in 2010 in a coup orchestrated by an inmate using an illegal phone. A year later, seven South Carolina inmates died in the deadliest riot in American prisons in years, according to those responsible for a gang brawl, which began in the territory and smuggled, including mobile phones.
Congress has considered scrambling legislation, but no bills have been enacted.
The FCC has shown its willingness to work towards eradicating cell phones in prisons, by hosting a field hearing in South Carolina and holding meetings with members of Congress, prison officials and stakeholders from across the country. wireless industry.
On Thursday, Stirling praised the leadership for the progress made so far.
“Acting President Jessica Rosenworcel is to be congratulated for putting this rule to the vote,” he said.