State and federal officials tested the jamming of cell phone frequencies inside a South Carolina prison on Friday, according to a news release from the office of Sherri Lydon – the U.S. attorney for the Palmetto State.
Lydon has made jamming these signals a centerpiece of her efforts to crack down on violent crime both inside and outside of South Carolina prisons.
News of the test – first reported by Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press – comes as the director of the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC), Bryan Stirling, is under fire for escalating violence within his system.
A year ago, seven inmates died during a violent melee at Lee Correctional Institution, a level-three (maximum security) prison in Bishopville, S.C. While the body count from that incident drew headlines across the country, almost every week we learn of new incidents involving bloodshed behind bars.
Many of them fatal …
The test also comes several months after Lydon’s office broke up a prison “sextortion” scam – one in which SCDC inmates and their accomplices targeted nearly 450 military personnel, scamming them out of more than $560,000.
This remarkably efficient, effective scam – like so many other jailhouse rackets – relied upon prison cell phone networks.
After the jamming test – which took place at Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, S.C. – Lydon was optimistic these networks could be shut down in the future.
“I am so encouraged by what I observed firsthand standing in a cellblock beside SCDC director Bryan Stirling, as federal officials tested cellphone micro-jamming technology,” Lydon said. “The technology was designed and deployed to block signals from contraband cellphones inside the prison, while ensuring that there was no interference with wireless signals used by the public outside the facility.”
According to The Associated Press, it was the first collaborative jamming test in the nation.
“It is incredibly promising to see the potential for technology to address contraband cellphones in prisons, which for years have threatened our corrections and law enforcement officers and our community,” Lydon added.
To his credit, Stirling has been pushing for the federal government to jam cell phone signals for several years – only to see his efforts rebuffed.
Why? As we noted in a story last fall, prepaid phones and prepaid phone minutes constitute a multi-billion dollar annual industry – one that encompasses virtually all extra-legal prison usage.
Wireless providers aren’t about to give that market up without a fight, and while jamming signals is obviously not a panacea for ending violence inside (or outside of) prisons – we would argue it is time to give it a try in the Palmetto State.
In fact after some initial reservations, we endorsed jamming cell phones as part of our expansive vision for prison reform back in November 2017.
“Contraband cell phones are not the cause of violence in South Carolina’s prisons … but their ubiquitousness is clearly facilitating the violence, and the only argument we’ve heard against jamming cell phone signals is that it might impede wireless service in surrounding areas,” we wrote at the time.
Lydon praised Stirling for his efforts on this front, saying he has “led the effort to allow state and local prisons to jam cell signals and made the entire country aware of the need for this, too.”
“He should be applauded for his tireless efforts to protect both the general public and the prison population from the safety threat posed by contraband cellphones,” Lydon said. “This is a game changer for law enforcement who work to protect the public from criminal enterprises run from within prisons.”
In addition to his role as director of SCDC, Stirling has been deputized as a U.S. Marshal – giving him the authority to conduct the jamming tests.
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