COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — A House Judiciary subcommittee advanced a bill this week that supporters say would help crack down on contraband cell phone use in state prisons.
H.4002 filed by House Speaker Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) and others would make it unlawful for an inmate of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) to possess a telecommunications device, unless authorized to do so by the agency director.
According to the legislation, the offense would be punishable by a fine of at least $1,000 and as much as $10,000 or imprisonment for at least one year and not more than ten years, or both.
The parents of Army veteran Jared Johns voiced their support for the legislation.
“They have what they need to communicate with their families. They don’t need cell phones because it leads to crime, hurt and death,” Kevin Johns said to the House Judiciary subcommittee.
His son Jared, died by suicide in 2018 after he was the victim of ‘sextortion blackmail scheme’. Investigators say inmates with cellphones were responsible for the crime.
“They bullied him. They pretty much told him he was going to go to jail and the last thing they told him, you’ll never see your boys again,” Johns said.
The legislation has the support of SCDC Director Bryan Stirling as well. He testified before lawmakers and said, if signed into law, it could help the state implement technology that would allow prison officials to disable cell phones being used behind bars.
This is technology is pending approval from federal communications regulators.
“We’re very close to getting this done. There’s a comment period right now. We were the first in the country to get certified on this,” Stirling said.
The legislation was amended to include county detention centers and was sent to the full House Judiciary Committee.