Legislation which seeks to address the public safety threat posed by contraband cell phone use by prison inmates was approved this week in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 492, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager, asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), major cellular providers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to take a proactive and collaborative approach, in conjunction with correctional officials nationwide, to effectively disrupt the use of contraband wireless communication devices obtained by inmates.” There were over 1,500 incidents with cell phones in Tennessee prisons last year. Speaking in favor of the bill was Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker, who told committee members that murders have been arranged and carried out on Tennessee correctional officers, criminal enterprises continue to thrive, victims have been stalked, witnesses have been threatened, escapes have been arranged and prison riots have been orchestrated all from within prison cells using contraband cellphones. He said these events are becoming common instances as more cellphones illegally infiltrate state correctional facilities. “In years past, I never would have considered the issue of cell phones being a major problem in our prisons,” said Parker. “But, I will have to say that in the last 15 years it has become one of the most significant security threats that we have in our facilities.” Parker recounted a 2005 case in Roane County when inmate George Hyatte shot Correctional Officer Wayne “Cotton” Morgan in an escape attempt. He said Hyatte and his accomplice coordinated the escape using a smuggled cell phone. “This was an unconscionable and tragic act which I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Senator Yager, who arrived at the Roane County Courthouse soon after that crime was committed. “Despite the efforts of our outstanding corrections officials, we need some help from the Federal Communications Commission to give us the tools we need to eradicate the use of cell phones by inmates in prisons.” Parker said the department is committed to tackling this problem, including working with the state’s congressional leaders in asking federal officials to stop the flow of contraband. Introducing contraband into a correctional facility is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. The resolution now goes to the full Senate on final approval.