Prison guards said to be source of cell phone smuggling for inmates

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Once again, the second time in the last two years, convicted killer Charles Manson was found to have a cell phone in his prison cell. The likely source: smuggled in by a prison guard.

Prison spokesman Terry Thorton told the Los Angeles Times the incident occurred on Jan. 6, although no other information about it was disclosed. Thorton said that over 10,000 phones were confiscated from prisoners last year – up from 1,700 in 2007.

The possession of cell phones by prisoners in California and throughout the country is a quickly growing problem, one that shows no sign of slowing. Officials say that the phones are used in drug operations, to organize protests and work stoppages and other banned activities.

Last year, legislative analysts with the state of California that investigated the problem, said the main source of the illegal phones was prison employees, half of which are unionized prison guards. Employees can freely bring phones or other contraband into prison facilities because they do not have to pass through metal detectors, like visitors or others.

So far, the main obstacle for requiring prison guards to go through the metal detectors, like everyone else, seems to be the added cost to taxpayers. Because union rules require that guards must be paid for “walk time” – the time it takes for them to get from the main gate to their work area – having them stop, remove their steel-toed boots, equipment belts and other metal objects, would be costly.

Prison officials say that the additional compensation for union employees would be several million dollars of additional pay each year throughout the system.

For over three years, state Sen. Alex Padilla has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation that would make it a crime to smuggle cell phones into prisons.

“Everybody coming into the state Capitol building has to go through a metal detector…. You even get searched when you go to a Lakers game,” said Padilla, who for three years has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to crack down on the contraband phones. “Why don’t we have that requirement at correctional facilities, of all places?”

Current laws do not exist that prohibit smuggling in the phones, although having them behind bars violates prison rules. A corrections officer, who made $150,000 in a year selling phones to inmates at $1,000 each, was fired but not prosecuted because no law was broken.

Padilla is now suggesting legislation that would charge a fine of $5,000 on anyone trying to smuggle a phone to an inmate. Padilla’s earlier bills included screening all prison employees, but that provision was dropped after union representatives raised the salary issue.

Los Angeles Times

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