Contraband Cell Phones In San Quentin

prison pay phone booth 300x168 Contraband Cell Phones In San QuentinThe website Gizmodo has a interesting article about smuggled cell phones in San Quentin. Its a pretty graphic article as you will see from the excerpt here. You can read the rest of the article here.

According to the article 10% of the population has a contraband cell phone. We believe addressing the demand for contraband cell phones by providing a secure prison cell phone solution should be part of the strategy to reduce contraband cell phone smuggling.

Smart phones are especially coveted in prison, not surprisingly. Aside from being able to more easily email, search the web and communicate, this is arguably the main way prisoners are getting their porn now. Porn, as you might imagine, is a very hot commodity in the big house.

Most of the phones that are discovered are of the pre-paid variety, which makes them extremely hard to trace. Most of the time, when phones are found they are locked and have had their SIM cards removed. In cases where they recover a phone with a SIM card they attempt to unlock it and scour it for data: phone numbers they called, text messages, emails, and any photos they may have taken.

Sergeant McGraw said that while other prisons have a much bigger problem with phones being brought in (especially prisons in more rural areas), he’s noticed a huge jump at San Quentin just within the last year. He estimates that roughly 10-percent of the population in San Quentin have cell phones, which is a stark contradiction to the 1-percent estimate inmate Sam Johnson gave us just an hour earlier.

There are many different ways that phones come in. Officer Patao mentioned the inmate crews that work for Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation). The correctional officers have made it much more difficult for this to work by making sure that inmates have no idea where they’ll be working on any given day. But if they are on a larger, week-long assignment in one area, it still happens. He also talked about drop points within the San Quentin grounds.

Drops can work in a number of ways. For example, there’s a bathroom just outside one of the main San Quentin gates which is open to the public and is a big draw for tourists. Inmate work crews clean these bathrooms every day. An inmate’s associate on the outside will have taped a package (of phones, drugs, tobacco, etc.) to the back of the women’s toilet, for example. When the inmates come to clean, they toss it in with the rest of the trash, then sort through it later. Then, when when nobody’s looking, whoop, up the butt it goes. They are usually prepackaged in latex gloves or condoms for easier insertion. Ow.

Another drop scenario: San Quentin backs up to a main road in San Rafael, with only a chain-link fence separating its grounds from civilization. This is the outside perimeter, not the security perimeter. Inmates’ associates pull over to the side of the road at night and just throw over a distinctive bag such as one from McDonalds, or Burger King. When the work crew comes out in the morning to clean the grounds, they pick the bag up, hide it in the lawnmower bag and then get the contents later.

The last way stuff gets in, though nobody likes talking about it, is that people can be bribed. San Quentin has hundreds of volunteers who come in and out all the time. While the vast majority of them are on the level, there are always people willing to sneak something in for a price. This includes correctional officers as well, though prison officials like talking about that even less.

In all of these scenarios cell phones are used to coordinate these drops, which makes it even more critical for the officers to try to keep them out.

Phones go from $300 to $700. Most of the cash is handled outside of the institution. Usually someone on the street is responsible for smuggling in the phone, and then the inmate who received the phone will have a family member or associate on the outside pay him/her in cash or money order.

Once phones are within the system they are incredibly hard for the correctional officers to get a hold of. Officer Patao says, “It’s harder for our institution because we dont’ have the luxury of having cameras recording everything here, so we have to rely a lot on information we receive from our informants.”

Sergeant McGraw agrees. “In a dorm setting, once our officers hit the yard, there are lookouts. In each unit there are five dorms—they’re tipped off and the phones are gone before we can even enter the dorm. It’s hard to track these phones down and get them while they’re on them, and they’re passed around so much.”

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4 thoughts on “Contraband Cell Phones In San Quentin

  1. Joy

    Here we go again! This article is just as riddled with BS as the original article posted on Gizmodo. Cell phones are brought in by the guards and other staff. They make as much as $100,000 a year smuggling cell phones into the prison. Check the internet, you’ll find many articles about this. One recent article was from Avenal State Prison. The Warden had a surprise search of about 1/3 of the employees. Lots of contraband, like cell phones, tobacco and drugs, were found, including a crack pipe! You’ll find a ton of articles where guards were caught bringing in cell phones and all that happened is they lost their jobs. Inside they get about $300 for a cell phone with no camera and as much as $800 for a smart phone. The inmates don’t put them in their butts. Besides the fact that it is physically impossible for them to put a cell phone into their anal cavity, they don’t need to since the staff is more than willing to bring them in for them. They’re brought in by the dozens in their giant coolers. Guards and other staff aren’t searched on their way in. The can easily bring in a couple cans of tobacco and a dozen cell phones and still have plenty of room for their lunches.

    A lot of the problem is with the telephone systems for inmates. The calls are all collect and they are limited to 15 min whenever they can get in on a phone. Since they’re collect, it’s expensive to keep in touch with their family members. Collect calls across the country can be as much as $25 each. It doesn’t take long for them to come out ahead by getting a cell phone.

    I sure wish that people would actually think and actually do some research before writing this kind of stuff online. This is pure propaganda put out by CDCR to deflect the reality of the staff and guards smuggling operations and their lack of any effort to try to curtail it.

  2. Brian Post author


    Thank you for your input on this post. We agree that a big part of the problem is the telephone system for inmates. That’s why we developed the meshDETECT secure prison cell phone solution. So prisoners could make (and receive) calls more often, in a more private manner and for longer than 15 minutes per call, all the while helping to reduce the demand for, and corruption associated with, smuggled cell phones. Our solution improves safety as well, by reducing the need for prisoner movement. Regardless of how the contraband gets into prison, part of the solution to curtail it has to be to address demand. We think we have a solution for that.

  3. Carolyn

    my brother was approved for parole a couple years ago. the gov vetoed it. the court overruled the gov (ninth district) but the attorney gen stopped it. then the next time he was denied. then he filed with the court and said he was not a risk and he would have a new hearing. well, something he should not have done was have a cell phone (also from a guard). the parole board denied him for 5 years because he was caught with the cell phone. he is not a violent person, threat to society and the guards dangle this stuff and when you can’t call your wife because she only has a cell and the cost it is hard on them. He has been thru the wringer and it is so unfair. so many get out that shouldn’t be and he is one the would be a good citizen. with the prisons so overcrowded I think the parole board was very unfair.

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