Politics & Government

SC officials call for jamming cell phones in prisons as Congress considers bills

The U.S. Attorney for South Carolina is the latest official from the Palmetto State to call for action against the prolific usage of contraband cellphones in the state’s prisons.

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, South Carolina’s Sherri Lydon called for federal officials to allow states to jam cellphone signals in state-run correctional facilities.

“As U.S. attorney for South Carolina, I see the threats contraband phones in prisons pose to the general public, prison workers and other inmates every day,” Lydon wrote.

Cellphones have been cited as major issues in South Carolina’s prisons, even taking the blame for the deadly riot at Lee Correctional Institution in April 2018. Seven inmates died in the skirmish over phones, contraband and territory, and 22 more were injured, officials said.

During 2016, prison officials reported confiscating about 4,500 contraband phones.

“Because of contraband cellphones, criminals are physically incarcerated, however, they are virtually out there amongst us, continuing their criminal ways from behind our nation’s prison walls,” prisons Director Bryan Stirling said, according to a statement from Lydon’s office.

Lydon also cited several other cases her officer prosecuted in which contraband phones played an integral role.

In one case, inmate were using phones to smuggle large amounts of methamphetamine from California to South Carolina. In another, an inmate conspired to kill his wife with a mail bomb by communication with a cellphone. Lydon also mentioned a massive phishing scheme her office handled involving inmates scamming members of the U.S. military.

The U.S. Attorney maintained that the only way to stop the threat of illegal phones is to disable the cell signals, something which is currently prohibited by a federal law dating back to 1934.

“We don’t put criminals in prison so they can keep breaking the law from behind bars,” Lydon wrote. “But as long as they have time and access to cellphones, inmates will keep running drug rings, stealing and menacing innocent Americans. Only Congress can amend the law to allow our state and local partners to disable signals.”

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would help change current law regarding cell phones in prison. The bill would allow state and federal prisons to implement a system that would jam signals, according to a statement from Cotton’s office.

A similar bill was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“With contraband cellphones, inmates can deal drugs and order hits on rivals from behind prison walls. The Cell Phone Jamming Reform Act would turn those cellphones into paperweights,” Cotton tweeted.

Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.