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Feature Contraband Cell Phones: Legislative Tracker
Laws and penalties for illegal phones in prisons and jails
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Contraband cell phones are a growing concern for many prison administrators. Cell phones can compromise safety and security, facilitate violence, and perpetuate underground economies.

All states have laws prohibiting contraband in prisons and jails, but some have modified those laws or introduced new ones to address cell phones. Some laws also address how contraband cell phones are brought in to prisons and jails—for example, by staff and visitors or by drones.

This legislative tracker provides an overview of contraband cell phone laws and penalties across states.



Contraband is any material or item that is unauthorized by the administration of a prison or jail and poses a threat to the safety, security, or good of an institution. All states have statutes prohibiting the introduction or possession of contraband in carceral facilities, and many impose different legal sanctions depending on the type and quantity of contraband.

To compile information for this tracker, the Urban Institute’s project team searched federal and state statutes for key words related to contraband, cell phones, and drones to identify all general contraband statutes and standalone statutes for contraband cell phones. The team then categorized statutes according to whether they were contraband cell phone statutes within general contraband statutes, standalone contraband cell phone statutes, contraband statutes specific to staff and/or visitors, or drone contraband statutes.

The Urban Institute is identifying best practices and guidelines for combating contraband cell phones in carceral facilities. Our project team also provides resources and technical assistance to put those strategies into place.


This feature was funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts.

RESEARCH Daniel Lawrence (CNA), KiDeuk Kim, Bryce Peterson (CNA), Megan Kizzort, and Rochisha Shukla

DESIGN Allison Feldman

DEVELOPMENT Luis MelgarJerry Ta, and Ben Chartoff

EDITING Zach VeShancey

WRITING Serena Lei