Press Releases

House Approves Feinstein Measure to Prohibit Cell Phones in Prisons

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

Washington, D.C. – The House has approved a measure sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that will prevent inmates from using cell phones to commit crimes from inside prison walls. 

The Cell Phone Contraband Act passed the House late Tuesday by unanimous consent. The bill passed the Senate in April. It must now go back to the Senate for a final vote before going to President Obama for his signature.

The bill would close 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.

"Gangs in both state and federal prisons are using cell phones to direct criminal attacks on individuals, to decide territory for the distribution of drugs, and to conduct credit card fraud.  This is unacceptable,” Senator Feinstein said. “This bill 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.”

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 bill 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.