Washington, DC - The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has released a report on the effectiveness of a new technology used to block illegal cellphone signals in correctional institutions. Department officials are encouraged by the promising results and the potential for the technology to disable contraband cellphones in prisons.

The NTIA report details the results of an April 2019 Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) pilot test of micro-jamming technology at a state prison in Columbia, S.C. The results are promising, showing that the new technology could be effective in preventing the use of contraband cellphones in prisons. As detailed in the report, NTIA observed micro-jamming technology installed and operated within half of an inmate housing unit. The testing was overseen by BOP staff who observed that cell signals inside the housing unit were blocked, while legitimate calls could be made one foot outside of the housing unit perimeter. This test followed two earlier tests at a federal corrections facility in Cumberland, Md., one of which included a micro-jamming test showing that the technology rendered cellular signals inoperable inside a single cell. 

Contraband cellphones are used by inmates to engage in criminal activity, or even run entire criminal enterprises, while incarcerated, endangering law enforcement officers (including correctional staff) and the public. For instance, in June 2019, the Department of Justice announced charges against members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood, many of whom are currently serving life prison sentences for murder. Some of the charged defendants allegedly used cellphones that had been smuggled into prison to order murders and oversee other criminal activities. 

There are countless examples of prisoners using illegal cellphones from behind bars to engage in illicit activities, such as sextortion schemes and conspiracies to purchase a mail bomb over the Dark Web or traffic drugs. “We are pleased with the most recent test results, and our efforts to test and employ new technology will continue until inmates cannot use contraband cellphones to terrorize, threaten, or harm our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Beth Williams. “We also want to thank Senators Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton and Congressman David Kustoff for their leadership on this important issue."

The BOP will continue to evaluate cell signal detection and interception technologies and work with its partners and Congress to achieve cost-effective options to combat this threat to corrections and public safety. BOP does not endorse any specific vendor or product.