Over 2,000 Cellphones Smuggled Into California Prisons in 2 Months

This article discusses the contraband prison cell phone legislation working its way through the California legislature. It states that a smuggled prison cell phone sells for $1000. Offering inmates a secure prison cell phone service would eliminate the value of the contraband cell phone in prisons.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that California State Senator Alex Padilla pushed a bill to punish cellphone smugglers through its first stage of approval yesterday (his third attempt in the last four years).

Currently, phones are used by jailed bigshots like Charles Manson, the Nuestra Familia gang and many an everyday drug/human trafficker to make sure business doesn’t skip a beat while they serve their time. Thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who — by some backward logic — wouldn’t pass the bill until it was harsher, neither the smuggling or the possession is punishable by law. See: “10,000 Cell Phones Smuggled Into California Prisons in 2010.”

But there’s an even more powerful force to blame, swaying legislative morality since 1957:

The California prison-guard union, or CCPOA, who demands that guards be paid for the time it would take to scan them for phones — costing the state millions of dollars it simply doesn’t have. At the beginning of February, after an in-depth analysis of the smuggling problem, the Senate Public Safety Committee found that prison guards were among those most at fault:

“All indications are that the primary source of cellphones being smuggled into prisons is prison staff. The committee has been presented no evidence of visitors who are properly screened through metal detectors being responsible for the problem.”

Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock even had the spine to say it out loud yesterday: “These cellphones are being brought in primarily, it appears, by prison people employed by our corrections system. To me this is not only a very egregious public offense, but a breach of public trust.”

The real question is, why can’t California politicians bypass one measly union? Padilla originally wanted prison guards to be scanned on the way into work for any illegitimate phonage on their person.

But there was no getting past the state’s No. 1 political lobbyist and campaign piggybank: the CCPOA. Governor Schwarzenegger received gobs of campaign funding from the group, and Governor Jerry Brown after him.

Thanks to their influential protector, in the heat of California’s financial crisis, prison guards are paid for “walk time” — the time it takes to get from their car to the front door.

Here’s yesterday’s watered-down version of Padilla’s bill, as passed through the Public Safety Committee yesterday. And not a moment too soon: During the first two months of 2011, over 2,000 phones were confiscated in state prisons. (Next, the bill goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sigh.)

Smuggling: Any person, employee or nonemployee who possesses a cell phone with the intent to deliver, or delivers, to an inmate is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 per device.

Inmate Possession: An inmate in possession of a cell phone shall be subject to loss of time credits. Time credit lost will not be eligible for restoration.

Visitor Protection: The bill contains language for visitors who inadvertently bring a cell phone into a prison without intent to deliver to an inmate.

Next question: How would the crime be enforced?

CCPOA spokesman JeVaughn Baker says the union is behind the bill in its current form. (And they kind of have to be. How would it look if they weren’t?) But in practice, why would prison guards and other prison staff turn in one of their own for partaking in a hugely profitable side-business? A recent State Inspector General report found that phones can go for as much as $1,000 each in the slammer. One corrections officer made $150,000 in a year — pretty much doubling his salary.

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