This week, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) conducted a pilot test of micro-jamming technology at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, S.C. The test – the first collaboration of this kind in a state corrections facility – was conducted to determine if micro-jamming could prevent wireless communication by inmates using contraband cellphones in a housing unit. This test follows two earlier tests at a federal corrections facility in Cumberland, Maryland.
Contraband cellphones present an ongoing safety and correctional security concern for the public as well as for correctional facilities across the country. Contraband cellphones have been used to run criminal enterprises, distribute child pornography, and facilitate the commission of violent crimes—all while inmates are incarcerated. In South Carolina, officials attributed the deadly April 15, 2018 prison riot in part to contraband cellphones. And on March 5, 2010, a South Carolina inmate ordered a hit on a 15-year corrections veteran from behind bars. He was shot six times and severely wounded.
“While I served as United States Attorney of Maryland, my office prosecuted an inmate who used a smuggled cellphone to order the murder of an innocent witness,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said. “Contraband cellphones in correctional facilities pose a grave danger. We stand ready to help our state and local partners in their efforts to prevent inmates from using contraband cell phones in jails and prisons.”
Assistant Attorney General Beth Williams added, “Offenders should not be able to continue to threaten the public from behind bars. Because the majority of our country’s inmates are housed in state facilities, it is crucial that we work with our state and local partners to test and determine what solutions work best.”
Currently only federal agencies can obtain authorization to jam the public airwaves. State and local prisons cannot. This week’s test was a novel collaborative operation between BOP and the South Carolina Department of Corrections allowing the testing of micro-jamming technology at a state prison.
The test was authorized by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and coordinated with the Federal Communications Commission. Two NTIA engineers attended the test and performed measurements of the micro-jamming equipment’s radio emissions to observe and document their characteristics. After the test is complete, NTIA will analyze the data and prepare a report.
The BOP will continue to evaluate cell signal detection and interception technologies and work with its federal partners and Congress to achieve cost-effective options to combat this threat to corrections and public safety. The agency does not endorse any specific vendor or product.