Prosecutors to Congress: Let state prisons jam cell phones

Columbia, SC (AP) — Top state prosecutors from across the country are again calling on Congress to pass legislation to allow state prisons to jam cellphone signals Illegally shipped to inmates, the devices, advocates say, allow inmates to plan violence and commit crimes.

“Congress simply needs to pass legislation giving states the authority to implement a cellphone jamming system to protect inmates, guards and the general public,” wrote the 22 prosecutors, all Republicans led by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. in a letter sent Wednesday to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Wilson’s office said it plans to contact Democratic state prosecutors, saying the issue is not partisan.

The letter, provided to The Associated Press, cites several criminal incidents that attorneys say were orchestrated by inmates using contraband cell phones, including a Tennessee drug conspiracy and a double homicide ordered by an Indiana inmate.

They also cited a 2018 gang-related siege that raged at a South Carolina prison for more than seven hours and left seven inmates dead. One inmate described the bodies “literally piled on top of each other like some macabre pile of wood.” Corrections officials blamed organized violence for the worst US prison riot in 25 years – partly due to illegal mobile phones.

“If inmates were prohibited from using contraband cell phones, we could prevent serious levels of drug smuggling, deadly riots and other crimes,” prosecutors wrote.

To render the phones — smuggled inside hollow-point footballs, beaten by corrupt staff and sometimes even dropped by a drone — worthless, prosecutors are calling for an overhaul of a nearly century-old federal communications law that currently bans state prisons. using jamming technology to cancel out illegal cell signals.

The push to curb illegal cell phones in state prisons has been going on for years, with South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling leading a nationwide push by corrections directors to allow more technology to be used to deal with prisons. contraband phones.

A bigger victory came in 2021 when the Federal Communications Commission ruled It would allow state prison systems, working with cell phone providers, to request permission to identify and disable illegal cell phone signals one by one. South Carolina was the first state to apply for the technology, but Stirling told the AP on Tuesday that no action had been taken on the state’s application.

Stirling said federal prisons behind bars are allowed to jam camera signals, though none currently do.

CTIA, a wireless industry group, opposes jamming, saying it could interfere with legal calls. However, according to the 2020 In an FCC filing, CTIA told the commission that “it is working successfully with its member companies” to “terminate service of contraband devices pursuant to court orders.”

Calling the fight against 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 and protect legitimate communications.” .

FCC officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the renewed jamming effort.

Congress has previously considered obstruction of justice legislation, but no bills have been signed into law or even considered. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., reintroduced such a measure in the previous Congress in August.

“We’re not going to stop advocating,” Wilson told the AP on Tuesday. “I can only hope that at some point Congress will take notice.”


Meg Kinnard can be reached at

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