Measures put in place to block inmates’ cell phones


It’s been 3 months since a deadly fight at Lee Correctional Institution, but conversations on how to fix issues in state prisons continue.

The Joint Bond Review Committee met the last week of July to review efforts by the SC Department of Corrections to keep contraband out of the prisons.

The department’s director, Bryan Stirling, testified in front of the small group of lawmakers. He said the biggest threat to public safety is a cell phone in an inmate’s hands.

Robert Johnson joined the director at the podium. Johnson was shot 6 times after an inmate used a cell phone to put a hit on him.

“The perpetrator who did this was locked up at lee. He called his buddy in Orangeburg and they set this up and even discussed what kind of weapon to use,” said Johnson.

Johnson wants more to be done. “They’ve got 24/7 to sit there and think of ways to outsmart me or to outsmart whatever method the director puts in but we have to be proactive.”

The department has been fighting against contraband. So far the department is using members of the South Carolina Guard to patrol the prisons and putting up 50 foot nets to keep contraband from being thrown over. A measure the director says is working.

“They used to have about 5 to 6 throw overs a week. people would come up.. these prisons are in rural areas where you can kind of hideout and they have said they haven’t seen any throw overs,” explained Stirling.

But there’s more work to be done and the department wants to take their steps further. Currently, the department has been working with the FCC and a trade association for wireless companies.

Stirling said the department is starting to roll out managed access systems, which allows for the interference of certain cell signals within a designated area.

“Some calls can go through, my cell phone can go through phones that are authorized will work..other phones will be blocked or jammed that’s why they call it manage access. because you manage the access.”

A managed access system is being used at Lee Correctional. It will cost the department $550,000 for a year of service.

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