Sen. Hutchison Introduces Bill to Prevent Cell Phone Use in Prison

Recent Cases of Inmates Using Smuggled Cell Phones Highlight Problem

January 15, 2009

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Texas’ senior Senator, and U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) today introduced legislation, the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009, aimed at preventing prison inmates from using smuggled cellular phones.

“This legislation will fight criminal enterprises behind bars and protect innocent victims and public officials from harassment and threats from criminals,” said Sen. Hutchison.  “Recent cases of prisoners smuggling cell phones behind bars highlight the need to use current technology to prevent this ability.”

The legislation will allow the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a Governor or the Governor’s designee (depending on whether a facility is federal or state-operated) to submit a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting to operate a wireless jamming device in a particular correctional facility.  In determining whether to grant the petition, the FCC must consider, among other things, whether the jammer would interfere with emergency or public safety communications outside the prison’s walls.  The FCC will test and approve devices for use by correctional facilities.

Current law prevents interference with wireless services.  This is an important safeguard to ensure the dependability of 911 emergency calls, and serves to protect the rights of legitimate users of wireless services. This legislation provides a process for approval and use of jamming technology while continuing to protect public safety and legitimate use.

Recent news reports indicate that in Texas, authorities say death row inmate Richard Tabler used a smuggled cell phone to make threatening calls to a state senator.  Tabler’s phone was found in the ceiling above a shower and officers found 11 additional phones belonging to other death row inmates while looking for it.

Corrections departments across the country are reporting a sharp increase in cell phones being smuggled into prison facilities.  In some states, the number of cell phones confiscated has doubled over the past two years, while in others, smugglers are making brazen attempts, such as using slingshots to propel cell phones over prison fences, to get cell phones into the hands of prisoners.

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