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Our view: Jam calls placed by those behind bars

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a former prosecutor, is cosponsoring a bill that would allow prisons to jam calls made by inmates using contraband cell phones.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a former prosecutor, is cosponsoring a bill that would allow prisons to jam calls made by inmates using contraband cell phones.

That bit of news last week raised immediate and obvious questions, not the least of which was: Prisons can't jam unauthorized cell phone calls now?

Nope. Not since the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibited equipment capable of neutralizing radio signals.

The act needs an update. Back in 1934, lawmakers couldn't have imagined the possibility of telephones without wires being smuggled into lockups and used to orchestrate prison breaks, to conduct illegal activity, or to further harass and intimidate former victims.

But that's happening now. And the problem is a growing one -- for Minnesota and elsewhere -- as phones get smaller and easier to hide. Just last week, an officer at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., was indicted, accused of smuggling contraband, including cell phones, to a prisoner.

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As obvious as it may sound, "Inmates should not be allowed to continue to commit crimes once they are locked up," as Klobuchar said in a statement. "We need to stop prisoners from using smuggled cell phones to continue their illegal activities.

"The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens," she said.

The Safe Prisons Communications Act has bipartisan support. Its cosponsor is a Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas. The act would give states and the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons the ability to petition the Federal Communications Commission so wireless jamming devices could be installed in correctional facilities. The devices could render as completely useless any phone smuggled into prisons, jails or other lockups.

The legislation would allow authorized signals free transmission, especially during an emergency. And correctional facilities would be required to operate their devices so they don't interfere with communications outside prison walls.

The act could effectively and efficiently curb inmates determined to continue committing crimes despite being locked up.

"This legislation will give prison officials an important tool to help put an end to this serious problem," Klobuchar said. "I look forward to working with wireless companies and other interested groups to address any technical issues and strengthen the bill."

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