Corrections Officials Attempt to Jam Cell Phones

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Officials with the state corrections department plan to ask the Federal Communications Commission to allow cell phone jamming at state correctional facilities in an effort to crack down on illegal activity in prisons.

State prison officials want to implement a pilot program that would jam cell phone frequencies inside all state prisons without interfering with signals outside the facilities.

In addition, DOC representatives plan to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation that would allow local law enforcement agencies to use jamming technology to aid in emergency situations.

Federal law allows federal prisons and law enforcement agencies to use cell-phone jamming devices, which prevent cell tower transmissions from reaching phones, but the technology is illegal for state and local agencies.

The proposal to grant jamming power to local law enforcement is new, according to government officials. State prison officials introduced the idea in November following a successful demonstration of cell phone jamming inside Lieber Correctional Institution, in Ridgeville. Signals outside the prison were not disrupted, according to reports.

The technology would help reduce illegal cell phone use inside prisons, including drug deals, witness intimidation, extortion and gang activity, as well as help local sheriffs and other law enforcement agents manage terrorist and other emergency situations, prison officials say.

The DOC has not yet determined the scope of the pilot program, including how many prisons would use the technology or how long the program would last.

Two private South Carolina cell phone vendors have also asked the FCC to allow state and local agencies to use jamming technology.

In other news, Texas corrections officials plan to test cell phone jamming technology at a state prison in Austin.

Travis County state prison is scheduled to undergo a signal blocking test at the end of this year in response to a state prison system lockdown and search that revealed hundreds of smuggled mobile devices.

During the lockdown, prison officials found 143 smuggled devices, including phones, chargers and SIM cards, 16 of which were found on death row, according to reports.

Texas inmates have used cell phones to threaten witnesses, prison officials say, and in Maryland, prisoners have used the devices to order murders in the community.

Critics of the technology say that cell phone jamming cannot be confined to one or two buildings and it risks impacting people using cell phones outside of prisons. A national wireless association has asked the FCC to enforce the ban against cell phone jamming at the state and local level.