Pilot program shuts down 320 contraband prison cellphones

Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 6:00 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2023 at 1:47 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Corrections says it is making progress in the fight to shut down illegal cellphones inside prison walls.

Last week, a pilot program launched by SCDC earlier this summer was able to identify and turn off 320 contraband phones found inside Lee Correctional Institution.

The agency is planning to possibly expand to prisons across the state.

“We’ve seen time and time again these cell phones, the dangers of these cell phones, spill out past the prison walls,” SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said.

SCDC has unsuccessfully petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to jam contraband cellphones signals for years.

But in 2021, the FCC agreed to a workaround, allowing prisons to get phones shut off by going through phone carriers.

Applications opened in May 2022 and South Carolina was the first state to do so and receive approval.

The pilot program officially launched in July.

Each cellphone has a unique 15-digit code called an International Mobile Equipment Identity or IMEI. Using FCC approved vendors, the agency identified the contraband phones over a few weeks and provided their codes to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

The carriers were then able to shut them down.