TDCJ Comes Up Against The Cell Phone Companies

A lot of people who read about the epidemic of cell phones in Texas prisons had a basic question -- if you can't discover and confiscate the things, why not just block them? Set it up to jam transmissions in the prison?

It turns out TDCJ has thought about that, but it's easier said than done.

The prison system found that out Monday when a test of a long-planned test of a jamming system was canceled.

We had talked to a retired guard who had predicted the test would be aborted because giant cell phone companies wouldn't aloow it, citing an 80-year-old law banning such jamming.

"It's all about the money," he said, saying the companies were worried about jamming causing problems for nearby paying customers.

TDCJ officials said, however, that Monday's cancellation was not a matter of bowing to telecommunications companies.

"Through our ongoing dialogue with the Texas attorney general's office, we have come to the conclusion that proceeding with this presentation would violate federal law, and we are not willing to violate the law in the pursuit of protecting it," said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said that although he supports jamming cell calls as a way to curb prison contraband, his office had no choice but to advise prison officials that the planned test would violate federal law.

Which doesn't really refute the whole money angle.

South Carolina had run into the same trouble when they tried to test a jamming system recently.

Who will win out in this battle? You'd think siding with Death Row inmates is not what big cell companies would like to do.

Tihen again, maybe so much is at stake that we'll soon see ads showing a guy in a cell,

"If my friend is going to take the time to insert a cell phone in his ass to get it past security, then darn tootin' I'll be using Sprint to make sure it works," he'll say.

Or this: A solemn Dead Man Walking scene to the electric chair. The guy's strapped in, the priest is offering Last Rites. "Any final words?" the warden asks.

Then the cell phone rings.

Cut tot he "Can you hear me now" glasses guy.

-- Richard Connelly

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