Cochran, Wicker Bill to Jam Illegal Prison Cell Phones Clears Senate Commerce Committee

August 6, 2009

WASHINGTON – Bipartisan legislation aimed at stopping prison inmates from using cell phones to coordinate crime has received an important committee endorsement, U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker announced today.  Both senators are cosponsors of the measure. 

The Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (S.251) would prevent prison inmates from using smuggled cellular phones by allowing states to petition to operate wireless jamming devices in correctional facilities.  The legislation was approved yesterday by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  It now moves to the full Senate for consideration. 

The Senators said the legislation was 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.

“Mississippi corrections officials understand the public safety and prison security threats posed by inmates with access to contraband cell phones.  This legislation is intended to stop those cell phones from being used to extend the reach of crime beyond prison walls,” Cochran said.

“Last year, Mississippi officials confiscated nearly 2,000 phones that were available for criminals to plan crime from their jail cells,” said Wicker, a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  “Our prisons are meant to stop crime, not further it. This legislation will ensure it is no longer business as usual for those who are locked up.” 

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. 

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., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C.