Lawmakers look to send 'strong message' on 'dangerous' prison contraband

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - State lawmakers could be one step closer to getting cell phones out of the hands of inmates in South Carolina prisons. Senators are moving a bill forward that slaps a stiff penalty on prisoners with contraband, including cell phones.

The contraband is an ongoing problem that SC Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling calls "dangerous." The bill, which continues to gain traction, would make it a felony for any prisoner to have contraband and carries a penalty of up to 10 additional years on a prisoner's sentence.

"I think 30-day misdemeanor versus a year to 10 years, that's a large deterrent. That sends a strong message that we're taking this very serious," Stirling said.

The legislation received vocal support from the committee as well as citizens in attendance. State senators are adamant about the stricter penalty being effective at preventing smuggled cell phones from entering prisons.

"It's going to be a felony. It's going to be one charge. It's really a stricter penalty. It's going to send a strong message you don't want to do this," Sen. Katrina Shealy (R- Lexington) said.

The prison contraband bill moves on to another committee now. Meanwhile, Stirling is still trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission to block cell signals in prisons. Stirling is scheduled to meet with the FCC on February 7 in Washington on the issue.

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