Lawmaker sends Call 6 report on prison phones to Congress

Steele pushes for law to block prison signals

INDIANAPOLIS - A Call 6 Investigators report on inmates threatening families from their prison cells has prompted an Indiana senator to push for action in Congress.

On October 31, the Call 6 Investigators uncovered a growing trend of inmates using smuggled phones to target victims of crime and other families for harassment and threats.

"I feel like … (we're) in danger from the time you go to sleep at night 'til waking up in the morning. It's not right," said an Indianapolis woman who reported that her family had been threatened by a convict using a smuggled cellphone.  

The family told Indiana Department of Correction workers that the convict threatened to kill them and burn their home down because he was angry that they were trying to limit his contact with their 18-year-old daughter.

Shortly after the inmate was caught with a smuggled phone inside a Plainfield lockup, the family said the calls grew more intense with the convicted robber using yet another smuggled phone.

The Chairman of the Indiana Senate Judiciary committee, Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, notified the Call 6 Investigators on Friday that he had sent copies of the station’s report to the state’s congressional delegation at the United States Capitol.

In his letter, Steele urged Indiana’s members of Congress to fix the problem.

He pointed out that Congress failed to pass a measure that would have allowed cellular signals to be blocked inside prisons, using a technology known as “jamming.”

"I now write to plead for someone in the Indiana Delegation to step up and reintroduce this bill,” Steele wrote.

Read the letter sent to Congress

Indiana prison officials told the Call 6 Investigators that the Federal Communications Commission had been blocking any prison system from jamming inmates’ calls anywhere in the nation.

"The FCC’s ability to deny states the use of tools to block these communications is outrageous," Steele wrote.

In an email to the Call 6 Investigators on Friday, Steele said he has been unsuccessful in helping the Indiana prison system to solve the problem because of the FCC’s stance.

"This is a no brainer, and I pray that it is resolved soon before more people are victimized," he wrote in his e-mail.

The Call 6 Investigators report included one instance where prison leaders at the maximum security Pendleton Correctional Facility lost track of as many as 10 smuggled cell phones in a single shipment.

The warden and other prison leaders said that a team of specially trained search dogs pointed out a plastic bag found in a shipment of dry goods. The dogs detected odors of cellphones and the markings inside the bag indicated as many as 10 phones had been there, and yet they were all gone when the K-9 team noticed it.

A spokesman said the prison system was doing everything it could to stay ahead of the problem, but he said phones and reports of harassment continued to surface.

Duane Alsip, the assistant superintendent for operations at the Pendleton lockup, told the Call 6 Investigators that a new complaint is filed "every week or two" from someone on the outside who reports that a prisoner is contacting them.

Steele said the jamming technology is 'relatively cheap' and his letter to Congress urged Indiana lawmakers to "get out in front of this issue."

Steele serves the 4th senate district, which includes Brown, Jackson, and Lawrence counties. In addition to leading the judiciary committee, he also serves on the senate’s Corrections and Criminal Law committee, which oversees state prisons.

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