Skip to main content

President Obama signs into law ban on cell phones in federal prisons

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • Authorities say federal inmates use cell phones to direct criminal activities
  • The new law prohibits use or possession of mobile phones and wireless devices
  • Anyone convicted of trying to smuggle a phone to an inmate can get a year in prison

Washington (CNN) -- Hoping to stop federal inmates from directing crimes from behind bars, President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday a prohibition on cell phone use by prisoners.

The law prohibits the use or possession of mobile phones and wireless devices, and calls for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of trying to smuggle one to an inmate.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons confiscated more than 2,600 cell phones from minimum security facilities and nearly 600 from secure federal institutions last year.

"Now that this bill has become law, prison gangs will no longer be able to use cell phones to direct criminal attacks on individuals, to decide territory for the distribution of drugs, or conduct credit card fraud," said Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"Making it illegal for criminals to use cell phones and wireless devices in federal prison cuts their communication link and helps keep our communities safe," said her Republican counterpart, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Cell phones are prized among inmates, officials said. A government report said California prison inmates pay $500 to $1,000 per cell phone.

The new law calls for a government study to be issued in a year to measure the effectiveness of the new prohibition.