OMG! Let Prisons Jam Signals

Post & Courier | Charleston, SC

So far, the Federal Communications Commission has resisted reasonable requests to let states jam cell phone signals at prisons. Perhaps recently uncovered phone abuses will bring them to reason.

In South Carolina prisons, inmates are using contraband phones to access Facebook, an online social networking system. They use their cell phones to take pictures and send information to friends who then post them on Facebook and offer indisputable evidence of prisoners using contraband phones. They can chat with friends, play games and thumb their noses at the law.

FCC members should be outraged that a murderer can get his hands on a contraband cell phone and use it at will to rack up points playing Mafia Wars.

But they should be even more outraged that prisoners have used phones to organize prison strikes, arrange murders and threaten witnesses and victims.

Apparently they aren’t outraged enough. Despite South Carolina and 30 other states petitioning for permission to jam cell phone signals and render contraband phones useless, the FCC has failed to act.

Those opposed to the request argue that jamming signals at prisons could interrupt emergency calls outside of prison walls.

Initially that was an issue. But technology has improved, and test cases show that the jamming can be fine-tuned not to go beyond prison walls.

Jon Ozmint, former director of the Department of Corrections, has noted that the cell phone industry has a powerful lobby.

As reported in The Post and Courier Sunday, last year corrections officers in the state seized about 2,000 cell phones from prisoners. Despite persistent efforts to stem their flow into prisons, cell phones get there — many tossed over the fence.

South Carolina is not alone. Nearly five times as many phones were confiscated in California, including one from mass murderer Charles Manson.

An Oklahoma prisoner, who had killed a sheriff, posted photos of himself smoking marijuana, holding a bottle of liquor and flashing knives.

As state budgets across the country look more and more anemic, it will be more important to use prison resources efficiently. Employees who now spend time searching for illegal cell phones and trying to predict how the next wily prisoner will acquire and use one could be doing something more productive if jamming systems were being used.

The new director of the Department of Corrections should renew South Carolina’s call to the FCC . Otherwise he might soon be reading online about another hit or another dope-smoking prisoner.