At $1000 per smuggled cell phone, more laws aren’t going to stop the contraband cell phones from being smuggled into jails. Only reducing the value of the contraband cell phone will reduce the efforts to sneak them in for prisoners. meshDETECT provides a secure prison cell phone service that manages and controls the use of cell phones in prison.
Put criminals in prison, and we’re all safer, right? Not so fast. Here’s the problem. Cell phones go for about a $1,000 a pop in prison and keeps the crime biz booming.
Recently, the Center for Investigative Action went to work, with law enforcement, inside the walls of Salinas Valley State Prison to find out how the phones are getting in and why these inmates aren’t getting more than a slap on the wrist, if they’re caught.
Inside the barbed wire and electrical fence, outside A-block in the yard with 1,000 maximum level security inmates.
Soccer, basketball, workouts. This will be the most activity prisoners see all day.
And so far it seems like a calm day.
But Lt. Michael Nilsson says it’s the activity inside inmate cells, usually after dinner, that has them most worried.
“Now they have internet access, you’ve got your smart phone, basically inmates have a laptop computer in their possession,” said Nilsson.
Phone calls are allowed. Those calls are recorded and the inmates every move monitored by this guard, assault rifle in hand.
But after the games are done in the common area, back in their cells they access the outside world with those smart phones.
“They’re setting up facebook accounts, their using twitter, using accounts online,” Nilsson says a lot of gang violence and drug trafficking is orchestrated online.
For prisoners who only have time on their hands, calling up phone directories and checking in on what homies are doing, is a breeze.
And it gets worse, “We have victims of crime contacting us at times, telling us they’ve been contacted by the prison that committed the crime against their family member.”
You heard right. That’s not all, for prison guards keeping peace inside these walls is getting harder because of smartphones, “If we have an inmate in one facility calling an inmate in another facility we could have a problem spread and spread quickly.”
So how do the inmates get their hands on the phones?
When a visitor comes to see an inmate in prison they’ve got to go through a whole screening process themselves, that includes leaving all their belongings behind then going through a metal detector. So, it’s hard for cell phones to even get inside prison in the first place.
The visiting room isn’t any easier to smuggle one in.
“Tables are built lower than the chairs, so they can’t pass things under the table.”
But that doesn’t stop people from trying.
“We find them in packages, we find them in mail…In the binding of books, they’re inside hollowed out pieces of soap…Inside Top Ramen soup bags…This one is covered in tape, it’s something they can hide in their cell, on the bottom side of their bunk,” explained Nilsson.
In fact last year, just this prison confiscated nearly 600 phones, that’s about 50 phones per month.
“We find them outside the institution on institutional property that a family member may drop off in hopes of having someone smuggle them in.”
And who helps do that? Just last August former correctional officer Timothy Rodriguez made big news for when he was sentenced to life for hiring a hitman to kill an ex-girlfriend and smuggling drugs and cell phones to inmates.
“Unfortunately, when 1 or 2 people do something bad and it makes the news, it puts a bad light on all of us. Most of our employees are here to do their job well.”
Taser, is part of the K-9 search team through the Department of Corrections; just recently cell phones were added to the list of things he can find when he goes right into inmate cells, every single day.
The program is new but so far Taser has uncovered 30 cell phones in four months.
So what happens to the inmate who had the phone, or the person who smuggles it?
Right now, they get, “A slap on the wrist at best. Why CA hasn’t done it, given were the largest state and home to the largest problem is beyond me,” said Senator Alex Padilla.
For four years senator Alex Padilla from southern California has been trying to change that.
“Unfortunately, if you’re a visitor caught with cellphone, worst they can do is take it away. If you’re an employee smuggling, worse they can do is fire you, but there are no real consequences today and that has to change,” said Padilla.
Right now, Padilla’s bill is in the senate awaiting vote.
If approved, that slap would change to an inmate getting six month good behavior credits taken away.
And for someone who helps get one in, it would be a misdemeanor with a $5,000 fine.
The question remains, is that tough enough?
We checked with our local lawmakers on the Central Coast and all of them: Assemblymen Luis Alejo and Bill Monning, Senators Anthony Canella and Sam Blakeslee, and Congressman Farr are all supporting the bill and want to see it passed.