This article provides an update on contraband prison cell phone legislation in California. According to the article smuggled cell phone usage in state prisons has recently exploded. Nearly 11,000 cell phones were found in state prisons in 2010, compared to 261 in 2006. The phones can fetch up to $1,000 each in prison.
A bill aimed at curbing widespread cell phone proliferation in state prisons is on its way to the state Assembly after clearing the Senate.
Senate Bill 26 attempts to crack down on the smuggling of cell phones and other wireless communication devices into California prisons — such as California Institution for Men and California Institution for Women, both in Chino.
The bill — which was introduced by State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys — was approved 39 to 0 by the Senate last week.
The Assembly’s Public Safety Committee is expected to next hear the bill.
Under the proposed legislation, smuggling a cell phone into prison would bring a misdemeanor charge, which would be punishable by six months in jail, as well as a fine of up to $5,000 per phone.
Inmates who are found to be in possession of the devices would face a loss of time credits that could not be restored.
Local Republican lawmakers said the legislation should have carried a felony punishment for violators.
An earlier incarnation of the bill, Senate Bill 434, would have made the act of smuggling a felony, but the proposal was killed in committee over concerns that it would aggravate prison overcrowding, officials said.
“It’s very difficult to get liberal legislators to pass anything with a felony out of committee anymore,” said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who sits on the Public Safety Committee. “With a misdemeanor, all it’s going to do is let people with six-month sentences out after a day or two because of overcrowding. I wish this was stronger.” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said that while he supports S.B. 26, the legislation should have carried a felony charge for violators.
“You have shot callers ordering hits from inside, and there are a lot of guys continuing their criminal career,” Donnelly said. “I think it’s time to put a stop to it in the name of public safety and common sense.” Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, said inmate overcrowding is preventing the bill from carrying a felony charge.
“We would all love to be more punitive, but with the issue of overcrowding, I think this is a good compromise, and I am supportive,” Torres said. “I represent the Chino prison. I’ve been there more times then I care to spend. This cell phone issue is a huge problem in our prison system, and (S.B. 26) is a good start to begin to address it.” Prison inmates have used smuggled cell phones to plan attacks, coordinate drug movement and sales, direct street gangs, communicate with other inmates and the public, videotape guard tactics as well as arrange escapes, officials said.
Cell phone usage in state prisons has recently exploded. Nearly 11,000 cell phones were found in state prisons in 2010, compared to 261 in 2006.
The phones can fetch up to $1,000 each in prison.
Under current law, smuggling cell phones into state prison does not carry criminal or financial sanctions, Padilla said.
S.B. 26 is Padilla’s fourth attempt to criminalize smuggling and possession of cell phones in prison.
Cult leader Charles Manson, who is doing time at Corcoran State Prison in Kings County, was twice caught in possession of a cell phone in the past two years.
“Criminals like Charles Manson, who had two cell phones, don’t deserve a friends and family plan,” Hagman said.
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