END CELLS Act Would Impose New Penalties for Detainees with Cell Phones, Those Who Provide Them

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), with U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), today introduced legislation intended to curb the use of contraband cell phones by prisoners to engage in criminal activities.

Hyde-Smith filed the END CELLS (Eliminate Non-approved Devices and Contraband Electronics Limiting Links to Society) Act (S.3780) would impose additional criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 for each violation involving prisoners using contraband cell phones and for those individuals who provide the smuggled devices.  

“In this day in age, we know that cell phones are more than just calling devices.  They carry the full might of the internet at our fingertips, and they can become weapons in the hands of prisoners.  The damage inmates are capable of with access to cell phones is distressing, from coordinating criminal activities, intimidating witnesses, or even planning escapes,” Hyde-Smith said.  “Our bill will help crack down on crime by providing another tool to curb the number of cell phones in prison, and penalize anyone smuggling them in.”

“It has become clear that organized crime does not stop at the prison gates. Contraband phones are often used by gang members to target law enforcement and corrections officers.  This bill would help protect our public servants and make communities safer,” Wicker said.

“Contraband cell phones allow prisoners to continue to orchestrate and engage in criminal activity from prison.  This legislation will help crack down on illegal cell phone use and help prevent serious crimes like drug trafficking and violence in our prisons,” Braun said.

The END CELLS Act would make it unlawful for anyone to provide or attempt to provide a federal, state or local prisoner with a wireless communications device and further make it unlawful for a prisoner to possess such a device while incarcerated.  

S.3780 provides another tool for law enforcement and correctional personnel to combat the persistent nationwide problem of incarcerated people using smuggled wireless devices to engage in criminal activities that pose serious threats to detention staff, fellow prisoners, and innocent members of the public.  A January report by the Urban Institute found that 20 state departments of corrections in the study sample reported a total of 25,840 contraband cell phone recoveries in 2020.

The Senate bill is supported by CTIA and the Correctional Leaders Association.  Additionally, U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) introduced a similar bill (HR.3939), which has been cosponsored by U.S. Representative Michael Guest (R-Miss.)