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Lankford Successful in Push to Prevent Contraband Cellphones in Prisons

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK –Senator James Lankford announced his request for funding of micro-jamming technology and managed-access systems in federal prisons to prevent the use of contraband cell phones in prisons was included in the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) appropriations bills. In September, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to fund the government at current levels through December 11, 2020. On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee released all 12 funding bills. Just this week, the Department of Justice announced a federal grand jury indictment of an inmate on an alleged murder-for-hire plot using a contraband phone.

“Across the US there is rampant use of contraband cell phones, being used for criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. Our communities are less safe because of cell phones in prisons, but the good news is, there is a solution,” said Lankford. “The inclusion of aid in this year’s funding bills is critical to providing federal prisons with the necessary technology to jam the signals of these cell phones. The funding is an important first step for wider use of micro-jamming technology for correctional facilities. I will continue to push on this issue until it’s done the right way. Victims should not be harassed by their attacker from within a prison and our communities deserve safety and security. ”

Specifically, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies FY21 bill increased funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to cover the cost for micro-jammers and for managed-access technology. The bill also directs the Department to submit a detailed plan for the deployment of complex jamming, which includes health and safety considerations. DOJ is also directed to ensure states are aware of funding opportunities for cell phone interdiction technology.

The Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) FY21 bill urges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to coordinate federal testing of jamming with stakeholders. Lankford serves on the FSGG Subcommittee.

Lankford joined his colleagues in a letter to the FCC in September of 2020 to address the rampant use of contraband devices in federal, state, and local prisons, which are used to commit crimes outside of prison. In March, Lankford pressed the FCC Chairman during a budget hearing on the agency’s plans to address this serious issue. The hearing came after the FCC announced its commitment to reduce contraband cell phones in state prisons as part of their strategic goals.

Federal law currently does not allow state prisons to jam cellphones. In 2018, Oklahoma state prisons confiscated 7,518 cellphones from inmates. Lankford has been pushing for a change in federal law that will allow states to use jamming technology to prevent the use of contraband cellphones in prisons. He first raised the issue publicly during a floor speech and pointed to specific examples of how contraband cellphones within prisons were used to conduct crime outside of the prison. He supported Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s executive order on the use of contraband cellphones, which came after an outbreak of prison riots that left one inmate dead and several injured. In December 2019, Lankford supported a funding bill that required a report on a cost estimate to fund testing of cellphone jamming for state prisons. Lankford applauded the FCC’s inclusion of language in the budget proposal that would help prevent the use of contraband cellphones in state prisons.