SC attorney general leads charge to ban illegal cell phones in prisons

Attorney General Alan Wilson is leading a 21-state charge to urge Congress to pass a law to...
Attorney General Alan Wilson is leading a 21-state charge to urge Congress to pass a law to allow state prisons to jam illegal cell phones in state prisons.
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 11:55 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is leading a multistate effort to call on federal lawmakers to allow states to jam illegal cell phones in prisons.

Wilson is leading 21 other states to push Congress to give the jamming authority to the states.

“A prison cell is no place for access to a cell phone,” Wilson said. “Inmates across the country, and here in South Carolina, are using contraband cell phones to facilitate drug trafficking, commit extortion, and even organize murders. We’re doing our part on the ground, but Congress needs to give states the power to jam these cell phones. Enough is enough.”

Over the past five years, Wilson’s office has handled four major drug trafficking cases where inmates using contraband cell phones facilitated and organized drug rings while behind prison walls, Attorney General’s Office spokesman Robert Kittle said. The most recent of those cases involved Las Señoritas in the Upstate.

A deadly 2018 prison riot in Lee Correctional Institute was orchestrated and planned using contraband cell phones, leaving seven dead and 20 more injured, Kittle said.

Wilson and South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling are calling on the FCC to give states the ability to jam contraband cell phones.

Stirling has long called on the FCC to grant the state this ability over several years, but those calls have gone unanswered.

READ MORE: ‘This is a war’: Drone-delivered contraband on the rise in South Carolina prisons

More than a year and a half ago, the FCC announced it was giving states the technology to pinpoint contraband cell phones and send the information to the cell phone carrier to be shut off within five days of notice. The S.C. Department of Corrections was the first state to apply and be approved to use this technology in 2022. But, Kittle said, they are still waiting to move to the next step of approval.

Wilson’s office says inmates using contraband cell phones to continue their criminal activity behind bars is not a South Carolina specific problem­ but a nationwide issue.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Congressmen Jeff Duncan, William Timmons, and Ralph Norman have all sponsored legislation in previous sessions addressing the issue. The respective bills have never received a vote.

The other states who joined are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.