Federal Communications Commission meetings typically are not very exciting. Wonky items are discussed, commissioners give statements, everyone votes. We expected more of the same on Thursday.
But then FCC commissioner Ajit Pai started talking about dead cats. Wait, huh?
The commission was discussing an emotional issue: a proposal to cap the rates and fees that for-profit prison phone companies can charge in prisons and jails. The proposal passed in a 3-2 vote. Pai, a Republican, voted against the new rules, explaining tersely that he did not believe the FCC has the authority to enact them.
Pai immediately launched into a very specific and very odd example of how illegal cell phones are smuggled into prisons.
"Contraband cell phones are flooding into Georgia prisons," he said. "They are flown into institutions via drones or they are thrown over prison fences stuffed into everything from footballs to dead cats."
The commissioner made that segue because "we were dealing with an item that involved both phones and prisons," a spokesman for Pai told The Huffington Post. "He wanted to call public attention to this problem."
Pai said he heard about the very real problem of contraband cell phones in prisons, along with his bizarrely gruesome anecdote, while visiting the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison last week. Prison officials showed Pai and his staff photos of various smuggling techniques.
"They didn't show us a picture of the dead cat," the spokesman said.
Here's what happened, according to Gwendolyn Hogan, a Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman:
Cat incident: Occurred on September 12, 2011. An officer assigned to the perimeter vehicle observed an unidentified object. Another officer was called from within the facility to investigate. That officer then found the item to be a deceased cat that had been cut open and stitched back together. The cat was x-rayed and it was found that the cat had several items inside its abdominal cavity. Officer found the following inside the cat: Eleven (11) cell phones; seven (7)packs of Buglar tobacco; one (1) round plastic bag containing tobacco; five (5) cans of smokeless tobacco; one (1) large plastic bag containing tobacco.
A total of 7,644 cell phones were confiscated during the last fiscal year, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. The FBI alleged in September that some inmates in Georgia "capitalized on their ready access to cell phones and other contraband to further victimize citizens outside the prisons." However, given the exorbitant price of landlines in many prisons in the U.S., it's not surprising that other inmates may also want a cell phone to contact family members.
Hogan said drones have been used to smuggle contraband in "several incidents," and that the most recent attempt occurred on Oct. 6 at Wilcox State Prison. She also said the department has seen "many" throw-overs involving footballs.
Russian and Brazilian prison authorities have each reported an attempt to smuggle phones into prisons by taping them to the collars of allegedly trained cats. Both attempts failed.