Nevada's prisons chief said Thursday he's joining in a national effort to get Congress to let states use signal-jamming technology to control illegal cell phone use by convicts.
Corrections Director Howard Skolnik says state lawmakers in 2007 imposed criminal penalties for bringing cell phones into prisons and giving them to inmates. But he said the ability to jam the phone signals also is needed.
"We don't always know what's inside our institutions, so the best way for us is, if these unauthorized cell phones get in, to make sure they aren't functional," Skolnik said.
Skolnik noted that Kenneth "Jody" Thompson used a cell phone smuggled into the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City to engineer his August 2005 escape in a furniture van.
Once on the outside, Thompson went on a three-month crime spree and was profiled on the TV show "America's Most Wanted."
Thompson had been serving sentences of up to 50 years for robbery, use of a deadly weapon and grand larceny when he escaped. After he was recaptured, he was sentenced to up to 50 more years for robberies he committed while on the run.
The signal-jamming plan has been challenged by phone industry representatives who contend it could interfere with legitimate service and 911 calls.
But Skolnik said he understands there is technology that would allow authorized cell phones to stay in service while unauthorized ones are blocked.
Nevada is one of 26 states that have signed on to a petition sent to the Federal Communications Commission, asking regulators' permission to jam cell phone signals inside state penitentiaries. Also, prison system representatives appealed Wednesday to Congress to ensure they can control illegal cell phone use.
The FCC has authority over non-governmental radio communications. Under current law, the FCC can only allow federal agencies - not state or local authorities - permission to jam cell phone signals. The FCC has denied two recent requests from the District of Columbia and Louisiana for test jamming sessions.