Prisons Want to Jam Cell Phones

Texas and more than two dozen other states are asking the federal government for permission to jam cell phones inside state prisons. Jim Bell explains why.

State prison officials say cell phones are a major problem in their lockups. Inmates use smuggled phones to run their gangs and orchestrate more crimes on the outside. The last straw came last year, when a death row inmate threatened a State Senator at his home. Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says they immediately locked down and searched every prison in the state.

"We have 112 prison units throughout the state, and this year we have found over 700 cell phones within the units.  Now more than 200 of those were intercepted before they actually made it to the inmates."

Jamming telephones violates the 1934 Federal Communications Act, so Texas and 27 other states have petitioned Congress and the FCC for permission to use jamming technology inside the prisons.

"We feel that this type of technology would be beneficial to us, because although we've been very aggressive in trying to find any cell phones that are in units, or trying to prevent them from coming into our units, there may be some that we haven't found, and this type of technology would make those phones completely useless."  

Lyons says that 1934 federal law was aimed at radio broadcasting, and it couldn't foresee new technologies, like cell phones or the problems they can cause in prisons. A bill giving the FCC authority to allow jamming has been filed in the U.S. Senate, and committee hearings on this bill are set for later this week.  Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.