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FCC votes to let prisons more easily shut down contraband cellphones

Prison (stock)

In a 3-0 vote, the FCC today opened up options for jails and prisons to more easily use new technology to shut down contraband cellphones in facilities.

The agency’s order notes that correctional facilities have already employed “contraband interdiction systems,” which are able to block wireless devices in a designated area. The systems require FCC approval before they can be used.

Today’s order speeds up the authorization process by cutting back on paperwork, and also requires wireless carriers to work with facilities on the use of contraband interdiction systems. It also requests further comment on other technology-based solutions to the problem.

As the FCC pointed out ahead of the vote, contraband cellphones have been linked to coordinated attacks on prison officials and other illegal operations. At the vote, the agency introduced a retired captain from the South Carolina Department of Corrections who was shot six times after a hit was put out on a contraband phone.

“Finding and removing contraband cellphones is the most dangerous part of [corrections officials’] job,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

Still, the vote was not without some controversy. Some criminal justice reform activists have questioned whether inmates’ families will shoulder the cost of such systems. Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted the high cost of maintaining contact with inmates, and raised similar concerns, saying the cost should be “appropriately assigned” and not passed on to poor families with imprisoned family members. She said a recommendation on this front she suggested was not added to the order.