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Mikulski Statement on Cell Phone Jamming

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U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) provided the following statement for the hearing “Contraband Cell Phones in Correctional Facilities: Public Safety Impact and the Potential Implications of Jamming Technologies,” held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation:

“Good morning.  I want to thank Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Hutchison for holding this important hearing today. Thank you for inviting me to provide testimony on the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (S. 251). This is a critical piece of legislation of which I am a proud to be a co-sponsor. I want to talk about why we need to consider and pass this bill now. 

“All Marylanders were shocked and dismayed to hear about this new organized crime practice of using cell phones in prisons to conduct criminal activities in communities on the outside while criminals enjoy a lavish lifestyle on the inside. As one reporter described it, from their prison cells and with the help of corrections staff, members of violent gangs were feasting on salmon and shrimp, sipping Grey Goose vodka and puffing on fine cigars, all while directing drug deals, extorting protection money from other inmates, and arranging attacks on witnesses and rival gang members. And, we’ve come to find, ordering a hit on a Maryland father of two. 

“On July 10, 2007, Carl Lackl, a 38-year-old father of two, was executed in front of his home in Baltimore County, Maryland. Lackl was an eye-witness to multiple murders who was supposed to testify at the murder trial set to begin on July 18, 2007. The murder hit was ordered on Lackl by Patrick Byers, Jr., who was incarcerated in a Baltimore jail. The ordering of the hit was made via a text message sent to the killers from his cell phone, which had been smuggled into prison. 

“Maryland’s talented Governor Martin O’Malley wanted to spring into action to jam cell phone transmissions from prison. To his dismay, he found he needed a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect the people of Maryland. He is right to be dismayed. 

“In 2008, Maryland correction officers confiscated 847 illegal phones. But this is not just a Maryland problem. This is a national problem:  California correction officers confiscated 2,809 phones; Mississippi correction officers confiscated 1,861 phones; and Federal prison officials have found 1,623 phones. Not all phones are being found and the crime spree continues. 

“For these reasons, I have joined this bipartisan effort and am speaking for Maryland’s can-do Governor, for the citizens of Maryland, and for the law enforcement officers who work so hard to catch and prosecute criminals to keep communities safe. They think they’ve imprisoned the criminals, but the criminals continue to operate out of jail with their smuggled cell phones.

“That’s why I’m a cosponsor of the Hutchison bill. The Safe Prisons Communications Act allows a state to petition the FCC to block the use of cell phones from prison. It protects citizens.  Current FCC law leaves citizens unprotected because it forbids the use of cell phone jammers in State and Federal prisons. The Hutchinson bill simply creates a mechanism to waive this ban when cells phones are being used illegally by prisoners. It is not a blanket waiver for all prisons.  Each prison must individually make its case to the FCC as to why the jammer is necessary. Our bill

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