The U.S. Senate Oct. 5 unanimously approved legislation that would allow states to petition the Federal Communications Commission to operate wireless jamming devices in correctional facilities. Current law prohibits interference with wireless services, a safeguard to ensure the dependability of 911 emergency calls and to protect the rights of legitimate users of wireless services.
The bill-the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (S. 251)-requires the FCC to conduct field testing of all devices submitted for approval and that approved devices operate at the lowest possible power output necessary to limit the chance for interference. The measure also provides that devices and systems approved by the FCC may only be sold, marketed or operated by approved correctional facilities.
The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives.
"This legislation will disconnect the communications networks that prisoners and criminal enterprises have patched together using smuggled cell phones," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chief sponsor of the bill, 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."
Hutchison promoted the legislation after Texas State Sen. John Whitmire received death threats from a death row inmate using a smuggled cell phone. When law enforcement officials discovered the cell phone that was used to threaten Whitmire, they also uncovered 11 additional phones belonging to other death row inmates in the same facility.
In 2008, corrections systems across the country reported large numbers of confiscated phones. California reported nearly 3,000 phones found with inmates, while Mississippi had nearly 2,000, while the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported it confiscated more than 1,600 phones.