The law prohibits cellphone use by federal inmates, but the Bureau of Prisons confiscated 5,116 such phones in 2016, and preliminary numbers for 2017 indicate a 28 percent increase. “That is a major safety issue,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tells the American Correctional Association. “Cellphones are used to run criminal enterprises, facilitate the commission of violent crimes and thwart law enforcement.”
The Justice Department will soon start trying to jam cellphones smuggled into federal prisons and used for criminal activity, part of a broader safety initiative that is also focused on preventing drones from airdropping contraband to inmates, the Washington Post reports. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the American Correctional Association in Orlando on Monday that while the law prohibits cellphone use by federal inmates, the Bureau of Prisons confiscated 5,116 such phones in 2016, and preliminary numbers for 2017 indicate a 28 percent increase. “That is a major safety issue,” he said. “Cellphones are used to run criminal enterprises, facilitate the commission of violent crimes and thwart law enforcement.”
As U.S. Attorney in Maryland, Rosenstein prosecuted an inmate who used a smuggled cellphone to order the murder of a witness. A gang member in North Carolina used a contraband cellphone to direct a hit on a prosecutor’s father, who was subsequently kidnapped and assaulted by the inmate’s associates. Next week, the department will begin testing a “micro-jamming” system to evaluate whether such technology can be used to halt inmates’ calls without disrupting services in the surrounding area, including those used by first responders. “There are circumstances where it is appropriate to jam cellphone signals,” said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “But these techniques are double-edged. The Federal Communications Commission has warned that cellphone jammers pose a risk to public safety.” The Bureau of Prisons, with 185,000 inmates in 122 federal prisons, 11 private prisons and 200 community-based facilities, is also facing a safety challenge because of the increasing use of drones. “Today, we face another technological threat: drones that can fly contraband into jail and prison yards,” Rosenstein said. Stopping drones is difficult. “Technological solutions to detect and disrupt drones are in their infancy,” he said.