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S.C. DOC testing new cell phone blocking technology at Lee Correctional Institution

Lee Correctional Institution (WCIV)

S.C. Prison officials are testing state of the art technology to combat contraband cell phones at Lee Correctional Institution, the site of one of the deadliest prison riots in U.S. history.

Corrections officials are assessing the new technology with scientists and wireless industry representatives. Lee Correctional is first site in the U.S. to field test the new technology that is aims to block cell signals from reaching contraband cell phones in prisons.

“The goal would be for them not to just not work. Eventually, we're hoping with technology that if you are standing on prison property, the cell phone would just not work,” says S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling.

Now the system being implemented at the prison, at the cost of $522,000 a year. Stirling say he offered Lee as the the first test site:

“They are going to test managed access. They are going to see if it works. You can test that in a lab, and they're gonna do that too. But the environment when you're outside, when you have maybe the humidity, when you have radio towers close-by. It's just a different environment then when you're in a lab."

CTIA, a trade association that represents the wireless industry, is footing the bill for the tests at Lee and another urban site in Texas. It's a new alliance that Director Stirling says is unprecedented:

“[The wireless industry] is spending a great deal of money to try to figure out this problem with us. They are no longer fighting us. They are joining us in this fight against contraband cell phones.”

While the cell phones are contraband, Cole Dorsey with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) contends they are important ways for families to stay in touch with loved ones in the prison system-- legal or not:

“To ease those tensions more, they would have more access to family and friends, they would make it easier to contact family and friends. So the cell phone jamming and those things, they can do whatever they want, we will find ways around it."

But even with the new system, Director Stirling has also spent million on 50-foot high netting, He says it has been 100-percent effective at catching contraband thrown over the fence.

There have also been more searches around the property with rovers, drone surveillance, and more arrests for smuggling in contraband. “We are going to have to be ever vigilant when they figure something out we will have to have countermeasure,” says Stirling.

Next step, Washington, D.C., where the contraband cell phone task force will meet to move this technology out of the lab and into the field.

The final report from the task force is expected in December. We received a statement from CTIA:

“CTIA appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with Director Stirling and the Department of Corrections to help combat the use of contraband phones by prison inmates. Today’s site visit is an important step towards meeting this goal ahead of real world testing of technology solutions that will help address this public safety challenge.”
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