S.C. governor, Horry County jail combating contraband, cellphones behind bars

S.C. governor, Horry County jail combating contraband, cellphones behind bars

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is asking for safety over cell service when it comes to cellphones smuggled into the state's prisons.

Haley wants to be able to make inmates' contraband cellphones unusable by jamming the cell service around correctional facilities.

However, she is limited in what she can do because of restrictions from the Federal Communications Commission and many in the telecom industry.

Authorities say cellphones in the hands of prisoners can be a serious threat to public safety.

While they are considered contraband in correctional facilities and jails, that does not stop inmates from getting and using cellphones. For Haley, she believes the only way to stop the problem completely is to kill the service that makes them work.

"When you look at the turmoil that takes place, it's all because of cellphones," Haley said. "People get cellphones whether it's through over the fence or however. We can try and get that out as much as we can, but too many inmates have them. If they would allow us to jam the correctional area, then their phones won't work. They won't be able to do drug activity or gang activity or try to take over the prison."

The FCC and many in the telecom industry have been strongly against the use of cellphone jammers around correctional facilities though.

"You know it's the telecom industry (that) doesn't want to give it up and what we are saying is lives should supersede all of that," Haley said.

However, the problem is that cellphone jammers are illegal. According to the FCC, they cause more problems than they solve, mostly because they are indiscriminate.

They don't just block inmate calls; they can also interfere with everyone's service in and around the correctional facility, including mobile 911 calls and other public safety communication.

"We will continue to go to Washington to talk about this to make sure we can get it done," Haley said.

Haley and several other governors from across the country are not letting this issue go. While their campaign focuses on prisons, jails like the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Horry County have put their own protections in place to stop contraband from coming in, and it seems to be working.

The jail uses a tarp over the chain link fencing that covers the top of the recreation yards to make sure they are covered when it comes to contraband infiltrating inmate housing.

"We got information from an informant inside the detention center that possible people were thinking of using a drone to drop hacksaw blades for an escape of some inmates, so we looked at our facility and looked at all the possibilities of how we could harden it up," Chief Deputy Tom Fox said.

While some cellphones have been intercepted during the booking process, so far authorities say they have found no cellphones inside the jail's housing units.

Part of that success is also about limiting the contact inmates have with people from the outside. Visitation is videoed, hard line calls are recorded and even attorneys must lock up their cellphones before meeting with their clients.

"In jails, it would cause a great harm to witnesses of crimes because most of the people in jail are pre-trial inmates," Fox said. "They haven't been to trial yet, so they could use it as an intimidation tool."

Fox said he is very supportive of Haley's work to bring cellphone jammers to South Carolina correctional facilities.

"You're never going to stop the fact that they are going to have access to cellphones," Fox said. "They have multiple ways to bring them in, so the only way to stop the use of the cell phones is to jam the signal."

The FCC believes there is another way though. They have suggested that correctional facilities use a technology called "inmate call capture." It filters calls from within the building to only allow calls from authorized numbers.

Related Documents:

A letter from Haley and other state governors to the chairman of the FCC, requesting that he considers allowing the use of technology to counter contraband cellphones:

FCC document outlining the benefits of inmate call capture technology, and why cellphone jammers are not a viable solution:

Testimony from a representative for CTIA, the wireless trade association, discussing jamming and other technology to prevent wireless phone access in prisons:

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