South Carolina’s prisons director on Monday joined a call by the nation’s correctional administrators to have the federal government allow them to use cell phone-blocking technology against inmates.
In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Association of State Correctional Administrators asked the agency to re-evaluate its regulations that prevent state prisons from using technology that would block calls from prisoners with illegally obtained cell phones.
“Contraband cell phones pose a grave threat to public safety and we must be able to use effective and efficient means to combat this problem,” said Leann Bertsch, president of the association. “Unfortunately, current legal technologies designed to prevent contraband cellphone use are expensive and not 100 percent effective.”
The FCC has previously denied requests by prisons to use cell phone blocking technology, arguing that correctional officers would be unable to call for help in the case of an emergency. But in South Carolina, state correctional officers are not allowed to carry their cell phones during work hours.
The S.C. Department of Corrections has long struggled with contraband cell phones, and in recent years, has pushed for help from state government to buy technology that can aid in their efforts.
In September, members of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority gave the agency approval to proceed with a project to buy and install a system that allows correctional officers to find unauthorized cell phones within the state’s prisons.
But the system, which is estimated to cost $1.4 million, is more expensive than other systems that simply block all phone calls. State prisons director Bryan Stirling said Monday he was encouraged by Bertsch’s letter.
“I would like the FCC to allow us to buy a system that would allow us to block cell phone signals, not a system that can manage access,” Stirling said.