SACRAMENTO (AP) — Thousands of prisoners, including Charles Manson, have been found with cellphones in California prisons, but it’s now illegal for prison employees and others to smuggle the mobile devices to state inmates, after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Thursday that he had signed a bill making it a misdemeanor.
The Democratic governor said contraband cellphones help prisoners expand their criminal networks from behind bars. He also ordered corrections officials to take a number of steps to crack down on the problem.
Under SB26 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, corrections employees or visitors who try to smuggle mobile devices into state prisons could face up to six months in prison and fines of up to $5,000 for each illegal device with which they are caught.
Inmates who possess a cellphone would lose early release credits of up to 180 days.
“We’re finally bringing real consequences for inmates who are committing crimes and also for the people who try to smuggle the phones into our prisons,” Padilla said.
Padilla said 260 phones were confiscated in 2006, but prison officials seized nearly 11,000 cellphones last year, many of which were smuggled in by prison guards and corrections employees.
Padilla said lawmakers have tried to pass legislation criminalizing cellphone smuggling before. A similar bill was vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year.
“California is one of the last states to act on this problem,” Padilla said.
Inmates have been known to access social networking sites from the mobile devices to post messages to family members, harass victims or coordinate assaults and escapes. Manson was caught with a cell phone in 2009, when it was not illegal for an inmate to possess one.
“When criminals in prison get possession of a cellphone, it subverts the very purpose of incarceration,” Brown said. “They use these phones to organize gang activity, intimidate witnesses and commit crimes.”
Brown also issued an executive order calling for an increase in the number of searches of people entering prisons.
The order calls for a report on the possibility of developing airport-like security at prison entrances and technological developments that could be used to interrupt unauthorized transmissions from prison.
There is no estimate on how long installing the airport-like security system will take, said state Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate.
“The rest of the prisons in the country are going to airport-style security,” he said. “It will be a matter of trying to efficiently put together a program where we won’t delay staff getting to their posts, because that’s expensive too.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)