Tag Archives: prison guards

Allowing Phones in The Cells Might Be a Sound Call

This article from the LA Times summarizes the contraband cell phone challenges the California prison system is experiencing, with no solution seemingly in sight. However, the one positive and logical approach to this issue is suggested by Najee Ali – co-opt the problem by provisioning secure prison cell phone service, much like secure payphone service is currently offered.

When the nation’s most notorious mass murderer has a phone under the mattress in his cell, it’s hard to ignore the fact that security has broken down in California’s prison system.

And it’s logical to finger prison guards, especially after a state investigation discovered that a guard made $150,000 in one year smuggling phones to prison inmates, and another had 50 phones in his car in a prison parking lot, labeled with the names of convicts.

But cracking down on the most likely culprits isn’t as easy as it sounds. If we try to halt the flow of phones by making guards go through tedious and time-consuming security checks, like airport passengers, we have to pay them for the hours that will take, under an arcane labor deal called “walk time.”

That would cost the state millions of dollars, according to a story by Times reporter Jack Dolan on legislative efforts to approve criminal sanctions.

But abolishing “walk time” isn’t the solution. The provision is a staple of contracts in law enforcement — called “pre- and post-shift activities” in some, and “donning and doffing” in others.

It’s rooted in federal labor laws that compensate employees for work-related tasks they must do before or after their shifts — like travel through locked doors and across prison yards to posts in isolated gun towers.

For California prison guards, that translates to an extra hour of pay each week. Thirty years ago, “we cut a deal with the union,” said Craig Brown, who was part of the state’s negotiating team back then. “We said, ‘We’ll pay you for 12 minutes every day, whether you walk a minute or a half hour.'” It wasn’t considered a perk back then, he said, but a way to keep California on a budget.

Now Brown is on the other side, as chief lobbyist for the union of prison guards. And he bristles at the notion that guards are the bad guys in the cellphone scandal.

“They don’t just come in with employees, they come in by mail, they come in by visitors, they come in over the fence,” he said. “When an inmate wants a phone, somebody is going to supply him.”

Sure. But according to lawmakers, that “somebody” is most likely a prison employee.

Brown, and others before him, said phones in the hands of inmates jeopardize the safety of guards. Inmates have tried to organize institutional riots, escapes and prison crimes.

“The 90-plus percent of our good officers who want these things to run safely want to kick the ass of the guy that brings the cellphones in, because it endangers them,” Brown said. But they’re not willing to spend unpaid time lining up to be herded through metal detectors checking them for contraband phones.

Nor, it seems, are they willing to snitch on colleagues selling phones to convicts. “It’s a difficult individual decision,” he said. “Some officers would probably turn their head and pretend they didn’t see it. And some officers would try to solve the problem.

“Most of them just want to go to work, do their jobs and go home safe.”

Which is probably true for most of the inmates.


If I take Craig Brown’s word that the typical cellphone smuggler isn’t a corrections officer, then I might as well take Najee Ali’s word that the typical inmate with a contraband cellphone isn’t Charles Manson texting his followers.

Ali, a high-profile activist in Los Angeles’ black community, came home from prison last week. He spent two years behind bars for trying to bribe a witness in a criminal case involving a family member. He served his time at two prisons, Tehachapi and Avenal, in a medium-security dormitory “with three guards watching 1,000 inmates.”

And he kept in touch with folks back home on a BlackBerry he acquired behind bars, purchased for $500 from an inmate “who had a relationship with a guard.”

Inmate cellphones, in Ali’s view, are an “open secret” and a prison-tolerated management technique, he said. They help tamp down tensions among antsy convicts in overcrowded prisons. “If you have half the guys in a dorm with cellphones, that’s 500 guys who are pacified and not a threat to anyone’s safety.”

The idea of Manson with a flip phone fuels our outrage. “But for every person doing something illegal, there are hundreds of guys who just want to talk to their families and keep in touch with what’s going on back home,” he said. “…They’re talking to their mamas, their wives, looking at photos, checking on their Facebook pages.”

Guards look the other way at the black-market deals, he said. A state study showed that a prison employee can make $1,000 on a smuggled phone. “With pay cuts, furloughs, it’s tough for them,” Ali said. “The same guards who are bringing in the cellphones are the ones now acting all up in arms.

“At the end of the day, if the guards did not want us to have those phones, we would not have them,” Ali said. “They know it makes us less of a threat, to them and to each other.”

The worst-case scenarios are pretty bad: inmates on clandestine phones planning escapes, arranging drug deals, ordering hits on enemies.


But what Ali wanted to talk about was far less troubling: “You share your cellphone with other inmates, that eases a lot of tension throughout the building.

“It brought a sense of normalcy to my life. If we’re being real about this, it’s too far gone to stop it.”

Instead of metal detectors or high-tech scrambling systems, we ought to think about regulating prisoners’ access to cellphones, he said. Why not let some convicts have access — maybe minimum-security inmates or those with good prison behavior records?

“You could restrict the hours, like maybe they could only use them from 7 to 9. Or create a process for handing them out, like you check out a library book,” he said.

Ali’s idea could be a tool to promote order in our overcrowded prison system. And it might make honest men out of those prison guards who are drawn, like criminals, to a black market system.

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Fulton Finds 50 Mobile Phones In Jail

Contraband cell phones in prison are on a par with drugs in terms of the ability to corrupt guards. Prison guards who smuggle contraband cell phones into jails do so because of the high price placed on smuggled wireless phones. Reducing the contraband value of cell phones by offering a secure prison cell phone service minimizes the temptation to smuggle in the first place.

The Fulton County Sheriff expects more arrests of his staff before a major jail contraband investigation is complete. And he promoted an interim chief jailer to a permanent position the same day an inmate shot another inmate with a smuggled handgun.

Sheriff Ted Jackson told Channel 2 Action News on Friday that he felt he had no choice but to turn to the FBI for help after finding illegal items, such as marijuana and drugs, in Fulton County jail cells last June. “We knew we had a problem and it was a problem we couldn’t handle,” Jackson said. “There was no one else we could go to.”

Thursday, FBI agents arrested a sheriff’s deputy and three detention officers following a nearly year-long sting to Sheriff’s Office employees facilitating the transfer of contraband into the jail. “We expect other employees to be arrested,” Jackson said. “This is only the beginning.”

The arrests came a week after the shooting incident, but had been in the works since a growing amount of cell phones and marijuana was turning up in periodic cell searches, he said. “It’s hard to conceal that you’re bringing cell phones in,” said Jackson, the former FBI Agent in Charge for Atlanta. “An investigation will show the methods used. The reason I went to the FBI is because I knew it was bigger than just a few employees.”

He didn’t rule out the possibility that rank officers could be implicated by the investigation. But Jackson announced after Thursday’s arrests that increased security measures at the jail would include requirements that employees be searched before entering the jail.

Former chief jailer Charles Felton, reached by phone Friday, questioned the timing of the arrests, and wondered why such procedures — which Jackson has always had the authority to implement — weren’t initiated before a gun was discovered in the jail. “Why are they just making a bust now?” he asked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m sure they didn’t gather all this information in the past week.”

Felton, who was jail chief from January 2009 to January 2010, said he wouldn’t search every employee, but random searches would put everyone on notice that anyone could be screened at any time. “When you have 130 people coming in on a shift, you can’t search everyone,” he said. “But the purpose of the searches is as a deterrent.”

With violent members of five known gangs active inside the jail, Jackson said it was possible that some of his employees fell under their influence. “They want to have control of the jail the same way the have control of the streets,” he said. “That puts a lot of strain on our employees. Some of our employees become too close, and that is how the contraband is coming in.”

Since January of this year, Jackson admitted that jail officials had found as many as 50 mobile phones inside the jail, a dangerous prospect for those inside and outside the jail when the phones are in the hands of drug dealers or violent criminals. “With cell phones, inmates can do business outside, or communicate with other inmates inside,” he said.

Jackson said he had planned to promote Mark Adger to full-time jail chief the day of the shooting, and stuck to his intentions after the incident. “I was there when it happened,” he said. “I had gone there for that reason. I didn’t see any reason not to do it.”

Felton agreed that if noting in the initial investigation of the shooting or the ongoing FBI investigation indicated that Adger was incapable, there was no reason to let the incident block his promotion. “This is not unusual,” Felton said. Still, Felton said the steps Jackson has taken should send a clear message.

“If you’re going to wear that badge, the message should be clear that no one is going to introduce contraband or illegal drugs into the Fulton County jail,” Felton said.


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Israel Seizes 50 Cell Phones At Prison

More proof that contraband cell phones in prisons is not just a problem in the United States.

Prison guards have seized and confiscated 50 cell phones, being smuggled into Ketziot Prison for Palestinian prisoners, Israel Radio said on Thursday.

Israeli authorities detained three suspects, two Israelis and a Palestinian, involved in smuggling cell phones to political prisoners, according to the radio.

The 50 cell phones were hidden in the food provisions sent to the inmates at Ketziot Prison, the radio said.
One of the suspects works for the company that supplies food to the prison, it added.

The prison warden has been indicted by the Beersheba District Court for receiving briberies from the inmates and helping in the smuggle of such devices into the cells.

On Sunday, a former Ketziot warden was convicted by the same tribunal for for providing cell phones to the prisoners.


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Harsher Penalties For Smuggling Cell Phones Into Jails?

This editorial makes the case that there should be stiff felony penalties for anyone caught smuggling cell phones into prisons or accepting bribes for cell phones. And that those penalties should be even tougher for prison guards. While tougher penalties may be effective, we believe reducing the contraband value of cell phones in prison will be the most effective way to reduce prison cell phone smuggling. If prisoners no longer need to pay $1000 or more for access to a wireless phone, prison guards will no longer be willing to risk their careers and freedom to smuggle cell phones into jails.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree in criminal justice to understand that prison inmates never should have access to cell phones. They use them to plot violent crimes inside and outside the prison, plot escapes and conduct drug deals with other inmates or contacts on the outside.

Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, agrees. He said, “Cell phone smuggling into California’s prisons is a very serious and growing problem. Public safety officials in prisons and prosecutors on the outside need additional tools to combat cell phone smuggling to inmates.”

One such tool should be stiff felony penalties for anyone smuggling cell phones into prisons or accepting bribes for phones. Those penalties should be even tougher for prison guards.

Unfortunately, it is the guards who are suspected of providing most of the cell phones to inmates, often taking bribes. Yet California continues to be lax in passing laws to crack down on the problem.

Possessing a cell phone behind bars violates prison rules, but still is not illegal. Inmates can lose early release credits, and employees caught smuggling phones can lose their jobs.

Even when someone is caught, the penalty is extraordinarily light. Last month, Terry Lane, a former California correctional officer from San Jose, was sentenced to just 45 days in jail for smuggling several cell phones to state prison inmates. The bribery charge was dropped in a plea bargain.

The best way to discourage prison guards from taking bribes for delivering cell phones is the use of tough penalties that include long prison terms, firing and permanent disqualification from ever working in a prison.

There are a few bills floating around in the Legislature to stiffen penalties for those who bring phones to inmates and or accept bribes for doing so.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, has introduced two bills this year that add penalties for inmates, employees or visitors smuggling cell phones.

Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, is carrying another bill that would require random searches of employees and contractors.

Action is long overdue. Prison officials say that the number of cell phones confiscated in California prisons has been growing rapidly over the past few years and has become a major problem that needs to be remedied.

If prison employees or visitors faced years behind bars for cell phone smuggling, we believe the practice would decline sharply. There is no good reason to delay legislation, even if there are added costs.


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Prison Guard Pleads Guilty To Smuggling Cell Phones

This news item highlights the corrosive effects the demand for contraband prison cell phones has on prison guards and other prison employees. Because the demand for illegal cell phones is so high, guards are paid to smuggle the phones into the jails. The demand for contraband prison cell phones would be significantly lessened by the introduction of secure prison cell phones such as those offered by meshDETECT.

A former state correction officer from Avenel pleaded guilty Monday to being a member of a network that smuggled pre-paid cell phones and drugs into Northern State Prison in Newark, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced.

According to Taylor, Luis S. Roman, 47, pleaded guilty to racketeering and official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Mathias E. Rodriguez in Middlesex County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Roman be sentenced to 14 years in state prison, including five years of parole ineligibility. The charges stem from Operation Empire, a joint investigation by the New Jersey State Police, the Department of Corrections and the Division of Criminal Justice.

“As he participated in this elaborate smuggling enterprise, Luis Roman demonstrated how much he had in common with the criminal inmates he was supposed to be guarding,” said Dow. “With this plea, he will officially join their ranks.”

“This correction officer shamelessly betrayed his oath and compromised public safety by smuggling cell phones into Northern State prison, where they potentially could have been used by gang leaders to direct criminal activity in our communities,” said Taylor. “We will remain vigilant with the Department of Corrections and State Police to address this threat posed by wireless phones in our prisons.”

“People are put in prison to keep them from threatening public safety. This corrupt correction officer’s actions put everyone at risk by allowing unmonitored cell phone calls from prisoners to potentially control outside crimes. Past examples have shown that this has resulted in “hits” ordered on witnesses and law enforcement personnel,” said Major Matt Wilson, Deputy Superintendent of Investigations for the New Jersey State Police.

Roman and 18 other defendants who allegedly distributed contraband in the prison or acted as accomplices outside the prison were charged with racketeering and conspiracy in a state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice on Sept. 15, 2010.


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