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MDOC commissioner: State prisons should be allowed to jam cellphones

Photo by SuperTalk Mississippi News

The number one contraband item smuggled into Mississippi prisons continues to be cellphones, and according to MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain, there’s a rather easy solution to the problem.

Cain, who took over the state’s correctional system in May 2020 after a 22-year stint at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, appeared on Wednesday’s episode of The Gallo Show. During the interview, Cain explained that contraband cellphones would be virtually useless if his agency were allowed to jam cellular signal inside prisons.

The only problem is they can’t. Under federal law, cellphone jamming is allowed inside federal prisons – although none currently have a jamming system in place – but not inside state prisons.

“The federal prisons can, but they won’t let the state prisons jam them,” Cain said. “It’s just crazy. It’s the craziest law you could ever see.”

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the agency has previously written that cellphone jamming “causes more problems than it solves” as it could interfere with 9-1-1 calls and public safety communication – a point Cain vehemently contends.

“They claim 9-1-1 calls, but we don’t have many 9-1-1 calls going out of the prison that I know of,” Cain said. “Also, the jammer does not impact the area around. All we want to do is jam the area inside the perimeter (where inmates are located), not even the whole property.”

Cain added that cellphones are not only the top contraband items inside Mississippi prisons, but they have also proven to be the most dangerous.

The commissioner cited the role cellphones played in five inmates being killed and dozens of others being injured during the late 2019 riots at both Parchman and a handful of regional prisons across the state.

“Cell phones are the most dangerous thing we have,” Cain said. “The riot you had in 2019 was caused by a murder at Wilkinson and a cell phone call to Parchman and the regionals to say, ‘Hey, it’s on. We’re going to fight.’ And so, that’s what happened.”

As the fight for cellphone jamming in prisons continues, a bill recently introduced in Congress and cosponsored by Mississippi Representative Trent Kelly would reverse course on the FCC rule if passed and allow any correctional facility to utilize jamming systems.

The full interview with Cain can be watched below.

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