State Corrections Director Jon Ozmint spoke yesterday afternoon at a nationwide FCC meeting on the problem of contraband cell phone use in prisons. This follows a recent press conference in which Governor Mark Sanford and Director Ozmint criticized the FCC.
The South Carolina Corrections director and 32 other states and cities have asked for the green light to jam cell signals in specific prisons. Prison guards are not allowed cell phones, so he says there is no public safety issue. He hopes the FCC will respond after he made his case yesterday.
See, before cell phones, we didn’t have a lot of packages coming over our fence line, because inmates and their folks on the outside could not communicate and coordinate those throwovers. When you eliminate cell phones, when you jam those signals, you eliminate that threat. And everybody–the public, law enforcement officers, judges, witnesses–everybody will be safer.
Ozmint blames the “profit-hungry” cell phone industry for lobbying against jamming signals, saying, “They would rather continue to allow inmates to make hits on cell phones than they would to sacrifice the profits they’re making on those pre-paid minutes.”
According to Ozmint, the state needs a mix of technologies to block cell signals. That includes the FCC-approved pilot program called “managed access” for cell phones.
We’re hopeful that The Wireless Association is going to go back to the Safe Prisons Communications Act, and say,”Look, this represents a compromise and a melding of several different technologies: jamming in appropriate places, but in highly populated–densely populated urban areas–obviously you’re going to have to use managed access.
The wireless industry prefers managed access, which is being tested in South Carolina. Amy Storey of the national cell and wireless lobbying group, CTIA–The Wireless Association in Washington, explains:
It essentially acts as a white list and a black list. And on the white list are the phones that are allowed to be used within a prison. So it could be, for example, your guards; it could be public safety officials that are within that area. And then anything that’s not in that list would automatically be on the black list.
But Ozmint wants more than managed access. He thinks it’s fine for urban areas, but not for “95 percent of the prisons in our state, which are sitting on acreage in the middle of acregage in rural areas with no lawful cell phone use surrounding or even abutting that state property.” For those, Ozmint says jamming is the most cost-efficient method.
In March, Corrections Capt. Robert Johnson of Lee State Prison was shot six times at his home after an inmate used a cell phone to put out a “hit” on his life. Thousands of pre-paid cell phones are smuggled in or launched over the fences of South Carolina’s prisons.
Ozmint says, “If they had been concerned about public safety, Captain Johnson wouldn’t have been shot six times.”
Ozmint says he has not gotten any kind of satisfactory answer from the FCC, who can give express permission to let prisons lock out cell phone signals.