Press Releases

President Obama Signs Feinstein, Grassley Measure to Prohibit Cell Phones in Prisons

–Law prevents inmates from using technology to commit crimes outside of prison walls –

Washington, D.C. – President Obama today signed into law legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to prevent inmates from using cell phones to commit crimes from inside prison walls. 

The Cell Phone Contraband Act closes a loophole in federal law by prohibiting the use or possession of cell phones and wireless devices in federal prisons. It also classifies cell phones and wireless devices as contraband material.  Whoever provides or attempts to provide an inmate with a cell phone could face imprisonment of up to one year.

“Now that this bill has become law, prison gangs will no longer be able to use cell phones to direct criminal attacks on individuals, to decide territory for the distribution of drugs, or conduct credit card fraud.” Senator Feinstein said. “It is my hope that this new law will help put an end to this criminal activity and punish those who would profit from smuggling cell phones and other wireless devices into our federal prisons.”

“This common sense bill, signed into law today, makes sure drug dealers and gang members in federal prisons can’t continue conducting their crimes from behind bars,” Senator Grassley said.  “Making it illegal for criminals to use cell phones and wireless devices in federal prison cuts their communications link and is a vital step in keeping our communities safe.”

Inmates pay hundreds of dollars for contraband cell phones. Last 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 also noted that one corrupt correctional officer received approximately $150,000 in one year to smuggle cell phones to inmates. 

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 2009, Federal Bureau of Prisons staff confiscated 2,607 cell phones from minimum security facilities and 591 cell phones from secure federal institutions.

In the first four months of 2010, federal prison staff recovered 889 phones from minimum security facilities and 299 phones from secure institutions.

So far this year, authorities have discovered more than 3,200 cell phones among inmates in California prisons.  There are presumably thousands more that were not discovered.

The law also requires the Government Accountability Office to study state and federal efforts to prevent the smuggling of cell phones and other wireless devices into prisons and jails as well as efforts to minimize the trafficking of cell phones by guards and other prison officials. The report is due one year from enactment of the legislation.