Preventing cell phone usage in prisons comes with a high cost

South Carolna Department of Corrections (WCIV).JPG

Right now cell phones are being smuggled into South Carolina prisons.

Corrections officials say that cell phones are being attached to drones flying over a prison and dropping them in or tossing them over gates for inmates.

Inmates can use these phones to escape and even commit crimes.

Director Bryan Stirling from the S.C. Department of Corrections said, "They are out of society physically, but not electronically".

Stirling's been fighting for years for prison cell phone jamming, but that's illegal.

“We're not going to stop until we get it all blocked,” said Stirling.

ABC News 4 wanted to find out what's legal and how the state can stop cell phones from working, so we searched the country and found something called Managed Access.

It became an operation at the Metropolitan Transition Center (MTC) in Baltimore in 2013.

“Even if the phone would make it in, it wouldn't work,” said Jay Miller, Director of Research and Statistics.

The way Managed Access works is if an inmate makes a call, the cell phone's signal will connect to equipment inside the prison instead of a commercial carrier's tower. This prevents unauthorized calls from going in or out.

"Once they knew the cell phones weren't going to work, the inmates weren't going to put in the money to pay for the cell phones brought in the facility,” said Miller.

Maryland Corrections Officials say this year no cell phones were found inside MTC, but before the program Miller said MTC averaged more than ten a month..

We took our finding to Director Stirling.

“Managed Access is great but the cost of doing that for 21 prisons across the state....the cost is astronomical,” said Miller.

S.C. Department of Correction says Managed Access would cost nearly half a million a year.

Over a three year contract it would be more than $1.65 million for each facility, and Stirling says jamming cell phones would be cheaper.

“It's three times as much and it is costly every year, but if you just block the signal the cost goes way down and you don't have to maintain it,” said Stirling.

The Chairman of the FCC says he's willing to work with corrections officials, communications companies, and the FBI to combat cellphones in the prisons.

Last October, the FCC chairmen said in letter he would try to arrange a meeting among those groups within 120 days.

The meeting could take place early next year.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off