Prison officials soon will receive a new weapon as they continue to fight against contraband cellphones.

Oklahoma Watch reported last week that the Federal Communications Commission plans to work with prison officials to use contraband tracking systems that can detect unauthorized cell signals. The systems would record the device’s International Mobile Equipment Identity number, and wireless service providers will be required to disconnect known contraband phones at the request of corrections officials.

That will go a long away toward helping with a problem that has plagued Oklahoma Department of Corrections, as well as prison systems across the country, for years.

The issue reached a peak in our state in September 2019 when incarcerated gang members used cellphones to coordinate fights at six state prisons. Thirty-six people were injured, and one inmate was killed.

The fights took place at Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita; Lawton Correctional Facility; North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre; Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy; Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown; and William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply.

Nine of the injured inmates were at Key. Five were treated at a hospital, while the other four were treated at the prison.

ODOC put every state prison on lockdown after the fights.

Inmates get access to cellphones through visitors, corrupt staff and even drones, Oklahoma Watch reported. In 2016, Oklahoma Department of Corrections seized 9,766 of the devices, about one for every 2.8 prisoners.

Oklahoma Watch reported that the FCC stopped short of allowing network jamming, a technology many prison directors have endorsed but the wireless industry opposes because it could disrupt service for legitimate users. However, FCC officials said will continue to seek input from corrections officials and work toward a solution.

We like the first step with the tracking systems. That will give corrections officials something to use and more solutions are determined.

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