Congressman joins in fight against contraband cell phones in SC prisons

Updated: Jul. 28, 2017 at 6:51 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Calling the cell phone a "menace" in the hands of South Carolina prisoners, Congressman Mark Sanford joins the fight against the contraband.

Sanford says his concerns over public safety have prompted him to write to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) asking them to jam cell signals from transmitting from prisons.

It's an issue WIS has been following since an officer's assault and a prisoner's escape.

Sanford says the FCC is misinterpreting the law, which they say keeps them from blocking the cell phone signals.  He says lives are in danger by them not jamming signals.

"Which is to say there are very few things that involve life or death, and yet this policy does," Sanford (R-SC) explained on Friday.

In his letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Sanford tells the story of a former corrections officer, Captain Robert Johnson. Johnson was shot, in what he says was a hit put on him by an inmate using a cell phone. Authorities also say recent inmate Jimmy Causey's escape was orchestrated using cell phones.

"I think it underscores what a public menace cell phones are in corrections facilities," Sanford says.

He believes the FCC is misinterpreting a federal law cited as prohibiting the jamming of the signal, preventing the "willful or malicious interference with authorized radio communications," since calls from behind bars would be unauthorized.

"It is absolutely a grotesque reading of the statute, what the FCC is doing. That puts peoples' lives in danger and perpetuates crime from within corrections facilities," Sanford says."Bottom line is that you cannot be running a business, running an illicit operation, running a murder for hire operation, out of a corrections facility in South Carolina or in any other corrections facility in this country."

The FCC says they are still reviewing the letter.

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