Georgia AG Carr calls on Congress to allow cellphone jamming in state prisons

Credit: David Barnes/AJC

Credit: David Barnes/AJC

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr recently joined other state prosecutors in calling on Congress to pass legislation that would implement a cellphone jamming system in state prisons across the U.S.

In a letter sent Wednesday to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Carr and 21 other attorneys general argued that contraband cellphones continue to be used by inmates to plot crimes and run criminal activities from inside prison.

“Simply, we need Congress to pass legislation giving states the authority to implement a cellphone jamming system to protect inmates, guards and the public at large,” the letter read. “Right now, these cellphones are still being used, with no way to block them, and are posing an active threat to public safety.”

The Georgia Department of Corrections said it confiscated more than 8,000 cellphones in the past year during full facility shakedowns, according to a news release from Carr’s office. Inmates allegedly used the devices to make scam calls, demand payments or text photos of bloodied inmates to relatives demanding cash, the letter stated.

The Communications Act of 1934 prohibits “non-federal entities,” which include state prisons, from using jamming technology, according to the FCC. The state prosecutors argued that blocking inmates from using cellphones could prevent “drug trafficking, deadly riots and other crimes from happening.”

In November, the Georgia Attorney General’s Gang Prosecuting Unit indicted 17 alleged members of the 183 Gangster Bloods, also known as 1-8 Trey Bloods, who are affiliated with the national street gang Bloods based out of New York. While incarcerated in Georgia and New York, two accused national and statewide leaders of the gang allegedly used cellphones to communicate with other defendants and urge them to participate in criminal activity for the Bloods, according to the release.

“The defendants are further alleged to have engaged in discussions regarding the packaging and shipping of contraband items into a Georgia Department of Corrections facility, as well as the sale and distribution of controlled substances in Hays State Prison,” the release added.

The letter cited incidents outside of Georgia that were assisted through the use of cellphones, including a double homicide that was ordered by an alleged gang enforcer from inside an Indiana prison. In 2018, alleged gang-affiliated inmates in a South Carolina maximum security prison used the devices to organize an attack that left seven inmates dead.

Congress has tried to address the issue, with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introducing a bill in August to allow state and federal prisons to use jamming systems. However, the bills have never received a vote, the letter stated.

“We strongly urge Congress to pass meaningful legislation, through this bill or another, to allow states to jam contraband cellphones — and quickly,” the letter added. “A prison cell is no place for access to a cellphone.”