Senate OK's prison cellphone jamming bill

“This legislation will disconnect the communications networks that prisoners and criminal enterprises have patched together using smuggled cell phones,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “With innocent lives on the line, Congress has a responsibility to give the nation’s 
law enforcement community the tools necessary to effectively fight this growing problem.  By adding cell jamming technology to the tools our corrections professionals can deploy, we can prevent criminals from terrorizing Americans from behind bars – even when phones evade detection and discovery and fall into convicts’ hands. I urge my colleagues in the House to swiftly pass this legislation.”

As part of the Safe Prisons Communications Act, the Federal Communications Commission would conduct a rulemaking regarding the use of jamming devices in prison facilities, and the agency would have to approve any device used for the purpose.

The bill also requires prisons that install the jamming device to have formal procedures for shutting down the system if it causes interference with outside networks or with public safety networks.

CTIA, the wireless industry’s biggest trade group, has voiced concerns that using jamming devices in prisons could block legitimate phone  calls nearby and could pose a public safety threat.

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Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of Hutchinson’s bill, also introduced another piece of related legislation yesterday with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Their bill would prohibit the use or possession of cellphones within prisons. Cellphones and other wireless 
devices would be considered contraband material, and anyone providing mobile devices to prisoners could face up to one year behind bars.

“A cell phone should never be in the hands of a prisoner,” Feinstein said.  “The presence of these cell phones poses a grave safety concern for staff, inmates, and the public. We know that inmates use these phones to conduct criminal business outside of prison walls, including directing gang hits, controlling drug trafficking operations and even 
conducting credit card fraud.”

So far this year, authorities have discovered more than 4,000 cellphones among inmates in California prisons.  In May, California Inspector General David Shaw released a report that found that California prison inmates pay $500 to $1,000 per cellphone.  The report noted that one corrupt correctional officer received approximately $150,000 in one year to smuggle cellphones to inmates.