WASHINGTON – Legislation intended to stop prison inmates from using cell phones to coordinate criminal activities has passed the Senate, U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker announced today. Both Mississippi Senators cosponsored the bipartisan measure, which was approved unanimously Monday night.
The Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (S.251) would prevent prison inmates from using smuggled cell phones by allowing states to petition to operate wireless jamming devices in correctional facilities. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Cochran and Wicker said the legislation is needed to address a growing public safety issue. In 2008, correctional facilities across the country reported large numbers of confiscated phones, including nearly 2,000 in Mississippi.
“Cell phones are being turned into a weapon of sorts in the hands of prisoners, and this legislation would allow corrections officials to take action to shut them off. It is my hope that such a policy would result in greater public safety,” Cochran said.
“Illegal cell phone use in prisons is a growing security threat that needs immediate attention,” Wicker said. “Our prisons are meant to stop crime, not further it. This bill will help ensure it is no longer business as usual for those who are locked up. I urge the House of Representatives to act quickly on this legislation.”
S.251 would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study and approve jamming devices for use by correctional facilities. This is an important safeguard in ensuring there would be no potential interference with public safety communications.
The legislation has broad national support, including endorsements from 20 governors, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the American Jail Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Sheriffs Association, the American Federation of State, the County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Governors Association and the Council of State Governments.
Additional sponsors of the Safe Prisons Communications Act, authored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, include: Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, John Thune, R-S.D., John Cornyn, R-Texas, David Vitter, R-La., Jim DeMint, R-S.C. and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala.