Time to turn cellphones into paperweights

Ponca City Now - October 23, 2019 9:38 am

By Sen. Micheal Bergstrom

In September, Oklahoma prisons went on lockdown. It began with a gang-related fight in the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita before spreading to prisons throughout the state. It was a coordinated uprising, which resulted in injuries to correctional officers, the hospitalization of 36 inmates and the death of one inmate — all coordinated with cellphones.

Every year, more than 7,000 cellphones are confiscated in Oklahoma prisons. Thousands more probably remain undetected. Many of the phones being confiscated are less than an inch wide and a bit more than two inches long. They can be easily hidden and smuggled throughout our prisons.

Inmates are able to oversee a wide variety of criminal activities outside the walls of their prisons using cellphones. They are also able to intimidate and threaten individuals on the outside as well.

The solution exists: Jam cellphone signals within prisons. It’s done elsewhere in the world.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) won’t let us, while our nation’s wireless companies drag their feet on the issue.

Concern for bleed over, the possibility that someone outside the prison walls might be impacted by a prison jamming system, has the wireless industry urging the FCC to hold off changing its rules until all the kinks can be worked out.

Instead, other options are urged, like having prisons pay for expensive scans for cell signals so that the identified phones can be reported to a stolen phone database and switched off. Of course, any phone not turned on when the scans are conducted will still be usable by inmates.  More phones will be smuggled in.

In a Senate interim study on Oct. 21, we heard about an FCC-approved signal blocking trial in South Carolina.  Outside the prison, phones worked fine. Inside, blocked.

Is the technology perfect? No. But it’s close enough.

It’s time for wireless companies to join the call for the FCC to change its rules and allow our prisons to block cellphone signals. Now.  It’s time for us to turn those phones into worthless paperweights.

For more information, contact:
Sen. Bergstrom: (405) 521-5561

Sen. Bergstrom is a member of the Senate Public Safety Committee.


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