After Prison Deaths, SC Asks FCC to Jam Cellphones

“This was about contraband, this was about cellphones,” said South Carolina corrections director Bryan Stirling after seven inmates died in fights. He and Gov. Henry McMaster asked the Federal Communications Commission to allow the jamming of cellphone signals in prisons.

The fights at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution that resulted in seven inmate deaths and 17 injuries were a byproduct of gang activity facilitated by contraband cellphones, said Corrections Director Bryan Stirling. He said gang members use cellphones thrown over the prison fence or smuggled inside prison walls to conduct illegal business inside and outside the facility, the Wall Street Journal reports. Stirling said, “What we believe is that this was all about territory, this was about contraband, this was about cellphones. These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they’re incarcerated.”

Stirling and Gov. Henry McMaster reiterated a request that the Federal Communications Commission allow the jamming of cellphone signals in prisons. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has toured the Lee facility and coordinated a forum with Stirling and others on the topic, saying he is in favor of finding ways to rid prisons of illegal cellphones but is concerned about the risks of also blocking legitimate wireless users. The FCC said Monday that it has adopted new rules that will allow for quicker deployment of interdiction systems in prisons, and is studying additional tools for combating contraband phones. The prison is the largest of the state’s maximum-security facilities and is operating at 96 percent  capacity with 1,600 inmates, according to state records. Last month, prisoners took over a dorm and held a corrections officer hostage for more than an hour. There were about 40 officers on duty on Sunday night. The fights broke out while inmates were being counted and returning to their cells. There was a delay in law enforcement retaking control of the dorms because officers are trained not to enter a chaotic situation until there is sufficient backup, Stirling said.