Press Releases

Senators Feinstein, Grassley Introduce Legislation to Prohibit Cell Phones in Federal Prisons

–Bill aims to prevent inmates from using technology to commit crimes outside of prison walls –

Washington, D.C. –U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) today announced legislation to prevent inmates from using cell phones to commit crimes from inside prison walls. 

The bill would close a loophole in federal law by prohibiting the use or possession of cell phones and wireless devices in federal prisons. The bill also would classify cell phones and wireless devices as contraband material.  Anyone who provides, or attempts to provide, an inmate with a cell phone could face imprisonment of up to one year.

“A cell phone should never be in the hands of a prisoner,” Senator Feinstein said.  “The presence of these cell phones poses a grave safety concern for staff, inmates, and the public. We know that inmates use these phones to conduct criminal business outside of prison walls, including directing gang hits, controlling drug trafficking operations and even conducting credit card fraud.”

“It is my hope that this will serve as a strong deterrent to those who would profit from smuggling cell phones and other wireless devices into our federal prisons,”
Senator Feinstein added.

“Cell phones and wireless devices are increasingly being found in our nation’s prisons and are used as a link to the outside to continue criminal enterprises,” Senator Grassley said.  “This is a common-sense solution to ensure federal prisoners can’t continue their crimes from behind bars.”  

Currently, cell phones found in prisons are not specifically defined as contraband material.  As a result, guards and inmates found smuggling or possessing a cell phone in a federal prison are rarely punished.

In 2008, Federal Bureau of Prisons staff confiscated 1,519 cell phones from federal prison camps and 255 cell phones from secure federal institutions.

In addition, state corrections departments across the country are reporting a sharp increase in cell phones being smuggled into prison facilities.

So far this year, authorities have discovered more than 4,000 cell phones among inmates in California prisons.  There are presumably thousands more that were not discovered.

In May, California Inspector General David Shaw released a report which found that California prison inmates pay $500 to $1,000 per cell phone.  The report noted that one corrupt correctional officer received approximately $150,000 in one year to smuggle cell phones to inmates. 

Senator Feinstein also supports “The Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009,” authored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).  The bill would enable state or federal prisons to petition the Federal Communications Commission to operate wireless jamming devices to block inmate calls. 

Before granting permission, the FCC would have to first determine whether the jammer would interfere with emergency or public safety communications outside of the prison walls.