Senators introduce bill to stop contraband cellphone use in prisons

The Cellphone Jamming Reform Act seeks to allow state and federal prisons to use cellphone jamming systems


Inmates use contraband cellphones to conduct illegal activities, run drug operations and organize escapes.

Jeff Chiu

By Corrections1 Staff

WASHINGTON — Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) introduced the Cellphone Jamming Reform Act on March 29, 2023. The legislation intends to prevent contraband cellphone use in federal and state prison facilities by allowing state and federal prisons to use cellphone jamming systems.

“Prisoners have used contraband cell phones to direct illegal activities outside prison walls, including hits on rivals, sex trafficking, drug operations, and business deals. Cellphone jamming devices can stop this, but the Federal Communications Act doesn’t allow facilities to use this technology. Our bill would fix this problem so that criminals serve their time without posing a threat to the general public,” Cotton said in a press release.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Mike Braun (R-Indiana), Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), and James Lankford (R-Oklahoma). Congressman David Kustoff (R-Tennessee) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House Of Representatives.

“Ending the outrageous use of contraband cellphones in jails and prisons is an immediate solution to reduce crime, improve public safety, and provide relief to our overwhelmed correctional systems. The Cellphone Jamming Reform Act is a necessary first step towards alleviating the crime crisis America is currently facing. I am proud to join Senator Cotton to introduce this important legislation and I urge my colleagues to support it,” Congressman Kustoff said.

This legislation is supported by the Major County Sheriffs of America, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Council of Prison Locals.

According to Cotton, the use of contraband cellphones is widespread in both federal and state prison facilities. Inmates have used contraband cellphones to conduct illegal activities, including ordering hits on individuals outside of the prison walls, running illegal drug operations, conducting illegal business deals, facilitating sex trafficking, and organizing escapes which endanger correctional employees, other inmates, and members of the public.

In 2018, a gang fight over territory using cellphones to trade contraband sparked a brawl inside the Lee Correctional Institution near Bishopville, South Carolina, and left seven inmates dead and 20 injured.

Bureau of Prisons Correctional officer Lt. Osvaldo Albarati was murdered in 2013 for interrupting an illicit contraband cellphone business. His actual assassination was initiated by an inmate using a contraband cellphone to contact the gunman as outlined in the indictment.

A 2018 report showed an FCI Fort Dix inmate arranged murder and assault from a smuggled phone in a Jersey prison.

Contraband cell phones aren’t only allowing violent criminals to continue their nefarious activities. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that Martin Shkreli, the disgraced pharmaceutical executive sentenced to seven years for securities fraud, was still making decisions at Phoenixus AG through the use of a contraband cellphone.