A South Carolina correctional officer who was the victim of a hit called in by an inmate seven years ago is using his own experience to push for more serious effort to crack down on contraband prison cell phones, such as the one used to arrange for his near-death.
Captain Robert Johnson said he recently spoke to the Federal Communications Commission as the agency sought public input on ways to eliminate cell phones in prisons.
“I was the only one to testify at their hearing, as they were modifying rules,” Johnson said.
He is pushing with state prison leaders for technology to jam contraband cell phone signals from prisons. The FCC has previously said a 1934 law only allows the federal government — and not states — to block electronic signals.
But Johnson said the law was written for radios and not cell phones. “We went and saw different senators about reversing the 1934 law on jamming,” Johnson said.
Johnson was the officer in charge of confiscated illegal cell phones and other contraband at Lee Correctional Institute when he was shot six times outside his Sumter home in March 2010. He survived, but has undergone 17 surgeries and become the face of South Carolina’s struggles to halt illegal phone use in its prisons. A Lee inmate was later sentenced to 20 additional years in prison for his role in ordering the hit,
His testimony at an FCC hearing in March helped pursuade the commissioners to approve making it easier for prisons to use an “interdiction system” which is able to detect phones being used, but does not interrupt their signals.
State Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling, Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford have all called for the 1934 law to updated and replaced.