Keep cell phones out of inmates’ hands, governors say

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Gov. Phil Bryant

Gov. Phil Bryant

JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant joins nine other governors asking the Federal Communications Commission to change how it handles illegal cellphones in prisons.

Corrections officials repeatedly complain that prison inmates are getting cellphones, chiefly smuggled into facilities, and using them to run illegal enterprises involving drugs, guns and violence against others inside and outside the prison system.

In addition to Bryant, chief executives from South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah sent a letter to the FCC Monday.

“The FCC should act to streamline regulatory review processes and allow states to implement cost-efficient technology in prisons, where the installation of such technology will not sacrifice the safety of the general public,” the governors wrote.

Bryant was not available for comment Tuesday.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and others recently were part of a discussion with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, law enforcement officials and wireless representatives about how to address the issue.

The most consistent solution from panelists was to jam the cellular signal inside correctional facilities so no one can use the devices.

However, prison officials, such as Sean Smith, chief of Mississippi corrections investigations, said jamming phones is illegal and impractical.

“I’m inside the unit, and sometimes I need to make a call,” he said in an earlier published report.

The report also said that regulators insist a 1934 law allows only federal agencies to jam public airwaves. And cellphone companies argue that the jamming methods suggested by the states could interfere with emergency communications and other legal cellphone use.