Justice Department moves to jam smuggled prison cellphones

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department will soon test a system for jamming contraband cellphones smuggled into federal prisons.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a national conference of correctional officials Monday that the Bureau of Prisons confiscated 5,116 cellphones from inmates in 2016 and that last year's number will probably be higher.

"This is a major safety issue," he said, noting that a North Carolina man convicted of gang-related offenses used a cellphone to order an attack on a prosecutor's father. And a Tennessee inmate used a smuggled phone to download and transmit images of child pornography.

Rosenstein said the Bureau of Prisons will test a "micro-jamming" system to see if it can disable the calls of inmates on contraband cellphones without disrupting service in the surrounding communities.

"In the old days, phones and other contraband items entered our facilities through the doors, or the loading docks. In some cases, they were thrown over the fence," Rosenstein said. "Today, we face another technological threat: Drones that can fly contraband into jail and prison yards."