Calif. targets cell-phone crimes from prisons

The problem of prison inmates using smuggled cell phones is bad enough, California officials point out, that even Charles Manson can get his hands on one in solitary confinement. But their real concern is the number of other prisoners using cell phones to carry out criminal operations.

The state wants to crack down under a bill that would increase the punishment for smuggling phones into prisons and allow prisons to set up a wireless monitoring system that could detect and block unauthorized transmissions.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, who introduced the bill, SB 26, said in a release that cell phones present a growing problem in prisons. They’re fairly easy to smuggle in, and are being used to initiate crimes such as “ordering murders, organizing escapes, facilitating drug deals, controlling street gangs and terrorizing rape victims,” Padilla said.

The number of cell phones confiscated in California prisons has risen from 261 in 2006 to 10,761 in 2010. People who smuggle them in sell them to inmates for more than $1,000 each, Padilla said. He also mentioned that Manson, notorious for inspiring a 1969 killing spree, has twice been caught with a cell phone.  

Under the bill, smuggling a cell phone into a prison could draw up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Inmates on the receiving end would permanently lose any good time credits.

The bill also would authorize the use of what Padilla called “managed access technology” to monitor wireless communications and block illegal calls, texts and e-mail messages.

The California Technology Agency plans to award a contract for is an Inmate/Ward Telephone System and Managed Access System, Government Technology reports

Illegal use of cell phones in prisons isn’t limited to California — 46 other states have tried to address the issue, Padilla said.

Several states, including Maryland and South Carolina, have asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to test or deploy cell phone jamming technology around their prisons.

The idea of jamming cellular transmissions has met with some resistance, however, because although it might keep inmates from conducting criminal business, it could also interfere with emergency communications. Federal law also prohibits anyone other than federal agencies from jamming radio signals.

Mississippi has taken the tack of using the technology for access control, with a system that registers all cell phones brought into a prison and blocks transmission from any phone that isn’t registered.
 
California’s SB 26 has been passed by the state Senate and currently is before the state assembly. If passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would take effect immediately.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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Reader Comments

Sun, Mar 18, 2012

I understand both sides. I understand the harm it can do in the wrong hands with a wrong intent, and in the hands of someone who wants to reach out and connect with the people he loves or she loves. For someone who has never been incarcerated I know, that I know, that I know that I would try to attempt to get me a phone, because I am human like anybody else with needs and wants.

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 Unknown Ca

What has happened to this country? I thought when a criminal is incarcerated it should mean punishment without any commodities such as television sets, electronics and cell phones!! Where is the lesson that should be learned? It's unfortunate our own "elected" officials do not put a stop to the ridiculous practices these Ca prisons have enacted. It is repulsive when my tax dollars fund inmates receiving brand name medication, such as hormone pills for transexuals and the best dentistry money can buy, While I settle for sub par medical and dental treatment. Then you wonder why most criminals become career criminals? Think about it 3 square meals a day, no obligations whatsoever and free housing! This country is seriously becoming a joke! Most inmates have more rights than the average citizen.

Thu, Sep 22, 2011

IF YOU HAVE EVER VISITED A PRISON OR JAIL AND HAVE GONE THROUGH THE RIGOROUS SEARCH YOU WOULD BE AWARE THAT PHONES ARE NOT SMUGGLES IN BY VISITORS. ALL PHONES AND DRUGS IN PRISON ARE CARRIED IN BY THE PRISON EMPLOYEES WHO MAKE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS SELLING THEM, CONFISCATING, AND RESELLING THEM TO INMATES. PRISON EMPLOYEES ARE NOT SUBJECT TO SEARCH GOING TO AND FROM THE FACILITIES. MOST INMATES JUST WANT TO TALK WITH THEIR FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

Mon, Sep 12, 2011

Prisoners getting cell phones? Just another example of our crooked government officials refusing to do the job they swore to do. Any idiot could put a complete stop to this issue. This is NOT a technological issue or problem. This is simply a case of our government officials refusing to do their job and making more excuses. This is really embarassing for us as a country.

Wed, Sep 7, 2011 C. California Prison

If inmates were really calling victims to taunt them, all the "victim" would have to do is call the authorities. It would only take a minute or two for the prison "goon squad" to show up at the inmate's cell. If you were to investigate the truth, it's a matter of someone in prison for domestic violence calling his accuser. Who probably bought him the phone and is paying the bill to begin with. A renewed falling-out causes a report of the inmate having the phone. It happens daily! As for escapes: Name one case? All other supposed crimes-by-phone could and do happen via letters, visits even authorized pay-phones. The state could make money on the currently illegal cell phones by selling them in the canteen (store) and then "registering" them using the technology mentioned in your article. Only allow access to certain numbers just as the yard phones are now. They could even moniter the calls. But then staff wouldn't make the money for themselves like they do now. The real reason the phones are a probblem is that staff don't want the outside world knowing what goes on in here until they can create a cover-story. They make a fortune on selling phones. They make a fortune on the over-priced collect calls. And heaven forbid the public see a picture of staff sitting in the shade 6 or 8 at a time collecting huge paychecks to socialize with one another while the prison literally runs itself. If the public only know...

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