The Latest: Haley: Feds must let prisons nix cell signals

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 2:48 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Latest on South Carolina's efforts to get rid of illegal cellphones in prisons (all times local):

2:30 p.m.

Gov. Nikki Haley is imploring federal officials to give her state the power to block out signals from cellphones that inmates have illegally in prison.

During a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Columbia with Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai, Haley pointed out that South Carolina has tried multiple pathways to try to combat the cellphone problem, which she says has allowed inmates to plot and organize riots behind bars. The state has tried using dogs trained to sniff out contraband, more aggressive searches and even specialized technology to block out some signals but not others.

What's needed, Haley said, is the technology to block out cell signals in areas where inmates have contraband phones. That way, Haley says, inmates' phones become useless, and they become less dangerous.

"This is something that has a solution to it," Haley said. "Allow us to jam our prisons. ... Something has to change."

Haley and South Carolina's prisons director need FCC permission to use the blocking technology.

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12:20 p.m.

Federal officials in South Carolina have toured a maximum security prison to learn about the security threat from cellphones behind bars.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai walked through Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville on Wednesday. He met with inmates inside several dorms and examined a display of hundreds of cellphones, weapons and drugs seized in a single raid.

South Carolina Department of Corrections Chief Bryan Stirling wants to block cellphone signals behind bars, but needs the FCC's permission.

Pai and Stirling are both participating in a hearing later Wednesday in Columbia at the invitation of Gov. Nikki Haley.

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4:30 a.m.

Corrections officials say contraband cellphones are among the top security threats within prisons, and federal officials are in South Carolina to learn more about the problem.

Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai is participating Wednesday in a field hearing in Columbia to hear from officials about the issue.

South Carolina Corrections Department Director Bryan Stirling and his predecessors have emphasized the danger smuggled cellphones present within prison. The state has sought permission to jam cellular signals at prisons, but that request has stalled before the FCC.

In 2010, former Lee Correctional Institution Capt. Robert Johnson was nearly shot to death at his home in a hit said to have been ordered by an inmate using a smuggled cellphone. Johnson is also slated to take part in Wednesday's discussion.