Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation making it illegal for a prison inmate to possess a cell phone

NASHVILLE, (April 6, 2017) — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week making it illegal for a prison inmate to possess a cell phone during their incarceration.  Senate Bill 432, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), creates a new class E felony offense for knowingly possessing an unauthorized telecommunications device while present in any Tennessee penal institution.

Current law prohibits anyone from bringing in a device of this nature, but there are no laws in place that make possession of them illegal.  The bill also applies to use of the device to coerce a witness or juror and when it involves escape from a penal institution.

There were 1,536 incidents with cell phones in state prisons last year alone.

“Cell phones being slipped into our prisons is a huge problem,” said Sen. Jackson.  “I met with 120 correctional officers about a year ago, and they laughed when I asked about the phones because they just can’t keep them out of the prisons. These devices are used to threaten guards, citizens and witnesses, as well as planning crimes and running gang and drug activities.  Prisoners are sending selfies to the people they have offended.”

“The main fix would be if the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) would let us jam the signal in these prisons, but in the meantime we have to do something to fix it.  This legislation expands the authority of the facility to do something about it, not only for the safety of the correctional officers, but also for the citizens they have contact with outside of those prison walls.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

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