Prosecutors to Congress: Let state prisons jam cellphones

Jan 24, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 3:20 pm
FILE - Prison staff work at Lee Correctional Institution, in Bishopville, S.C.. April 10, 2019. Top...

FILE - Prison staff work at Lee Correctional Institution, in Bishopville, S.C.. April 10, 2019. Top state prosecutors are urging Congress to pass legislation allowing state prisons to jam the signals of cellphones smuggled to inmates behind bars. The 22 attorneys general say Wednesday in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that the devices allow prisoners to plot violence and carry out crimes. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Top state prosecutors from across the country are again urging Congress to pass legislation allowing state prisons to jam the signals of cellphones smuggled to inmates, devices the attorneys argue allow prisoners to plot violence and carry out crimes.

“Simply, we need Congress to pass legislation giving states the authority to implement a cell phone jamming system to protect inmates, guards, and the public at large,” the 22 prosecutors — all Republicans, led by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson — wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Wilson’s office said there are plans to reach out to Democratic state prosecutors, arguing the issue isn’t a partisan one.

The letter, provided to The Associated Press, cites a handful of criminal incidents the attorneys say were orchestrated by inmates using contraband cellphones, including a Tennessee drug conspiracy and a double homicide hit ordered by an Indiana inmate.

They also cited a 2018 gang-related siege that raged for more than seven hours at a South Carolina prison, killing seven inmates. One inmate described bodies “literally stacked on top of each other, like some macabre woodpile.” Corrections officials blamed the orchestrated violence — the worst U.S. prison riot in 25 years — in part on illegal cellphones.

“If inmates were blocked from using contraband cell phones, we could prevent serious levels of drug trafficking, deadly riots, and other crimes from happening,” the prosecutors wrote.

To be able to render the phones — smuggled inside hollowed-out footballs, whisked in by corrupt employees and sometimes even dropped by drone — worthless, prosecutors are calling for a change in a nearly century-old federal communications law that currently prevents state prisons from using jamming technology to nullify illicit cell signals.

The push to clamp down on illicit cellphones in state prisons has been ongoing for years, with South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling at the forefront of an effort by corrections directors across the country to call for the ability to use more technology to crack down on the contraband phones.

An incremental victory came in 2021, when the Federal Communications Commission adopted a ruling that would allow state prison systems to apply for permits to identify and turn off illegal cell signals, one by one, in collaboration with cellphone providers. South Carolina was the first state to apply to use this technology, but Stirling told AP on Tuesday that no action has been taken on the state’s application.

Federal prisons are allowed to jam cell signals behind bars, although none currently do, Stirling said.

CTIA, a wireless industry group, opposes jamming, saying it could thwart legal calls. But, according to a 2020 FCC document, CTIA told the commission “it has been working successfully, along with its members companies” on “ceasing service to contraband devices pursuant to court orders they have obtained.”

Calling combating contraband phones “a serious issue,” CTIA officials said in a statement to the AP that the “wireless industry remains committed to working with corrections officials and policymakers at all levels of government to implement effective solutions that combat contraband phones while protecting lawful communications.”

FCC officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on a renewed push for jamming.

Congress has previously considered jamming legislation, but no bills have been signed into law or even had a hearing. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., reintroduced such a measure in August in the previous Congress.

“We’re not going to stop advocating,” Wilson told AP on Tuesday. “I can only hope that at some point, Congress is going to take note.”


Meg Kinnard can be reached at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 201...
Associated Press

Google hopes ‘Bard’ will outsmart ChatGPT, Microsoft in AI

Google is girding for a battle of wits in the field of artificial intelligence with “Bard," a conversational service apparently aimed at countering the popularity of the ChatGPT tool backed by Microsoft.
17 hours ago
FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Se...
Associated Press

Boeing plans to cut about 2,000 finance and HR jobs in 2023

Boeing plans to make staffing cuts in the aerospace company's finance and human resources departments in 2023, with a loss of around 2,000 jobs
17 hours ago
(Jennifer Bakos via AP)...
Associated Press

1 missing, 2 rescued from crab boat off Washington coast

A crew member remains missing and two others were rescued from crab boat that sank near Willapa Bay in southwest Washington on Sunday evening, according to the Coast Guard.
17 hours ago
child marriages...
Associated Press

Proposed bill would pay incarcerated workers minimum wage

A Washington state lawmaker who has spent time in prison wants the state to pay incarcerated workers minimum wage for doing their jobs.
17 hours ago
In this image from video released and partially redacted by the city of Memphis, Tenn., on Jan. 27,...
Associated Press

Memphis officer took, shared photos of bloodied Tyre Nichols

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Documents released Tuesday provided a scathing account of what authorities called the “blatantly unprofessional” conduct of five officers involved in the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop last month — including new revelations about how one officer took and shared pictures of the bloodied victim. The officer, […]
17 hours ago
FILE - This photo provided by the Tulare County Sheriff's Office, in California, shows known gang m...
Associated Press

Man pleads not guilty to killing 6 at California home

PORTERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — An alleged gang member pleaded not guilty Tuesday to killing six people, including a teen mother and her baby, last month at a central California home associated with a rival gang, prosecutors said. The Jan. 16 massacre shocked rural Goshen, a community of about 3,000 people in the agricultural San Joaquin […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Prosecutors to Congress: Let state prisons jam cellphones