Lawmakers Back Cell Phone Jamming In Md. Prisons

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) ― Maryland lawmakers are urging Congress to take immediate action to legalize cell phone jamming in prisons.

Weijia Jiang reports the push comes after a new report is released proving the technology works.

WJZ’s series of exclusive investigations uncovered how easy it is for prison inmates to obtain and use cell phones from behind bars to order prostitutes, cigars, seafood dinners, even murder in the case of Patrick Byers.

Byers called for a hit against key murder witness Carl Lackl.

“It was everybody’s dirty little secret, and I don’t think they ever thought it would escalate to a murder,” said Margaret Shipley, Lackl’s mother.

WJZ showed you hundreds of pages of conversations by inmates using cell phones for criminal activity, prompting Maryland lawmakers and the governor to urge Congress to legalize jamming cell transmissions in prisons. It’s currently forbidden by the Federal Communications Commission.

Now a newly released government report shows jamming technology at prisons does not hamper federal operations.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration performed a series of tests at a detention facility in Western Maryland.

“It seems if the technology is available and they’ve determined it doesn’t disrupt other cell phone traffic, we should move forward and do it,” said Governor Martin O’Malley.

But critics call cell phone jamming ineffective and potentially dangerous. They say blocking signals could interfere with 911 calls or other emergency alerts.

A video on the Cellular Telephone Industries Association’s website says, “Cell phone jamming is illegal with good reason. Jamming is a sledgehammer solution when a scalpel is more appropriate.”

CTIA, an organization that represents the wireless industry, says jamming may disrupt all service.

Though the new report that says that doesn’t happen only tests one prison, authorities are confident the results would be the same everywhere, and the time has come to jam.

“We don’t want crime to continue in prison. They’re running their operations on the street in prison. That’s inexcusable, and we can’t tolerate it,” said Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger.

The Senate has already passed a bill that allows states to petition for jamming. In light of the new report, Maryland lawmakers are pushing the House to do the same, as soon as possible.

The latest figures available show every year about 1,000 phones are confiscated from inmates.