LONDON - JANUARY 10: An Amnesty International supporter dressed in an orange boiler suit holds a night long vigil in a cage outside of the US embassy on January 10, 2008 in London, England. Amnesty International marks the six-year anniversary of the first prisoners being transported to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The human rights organisation installs its 'Guantanamo Cell' built to the exact dimensions of a cell at Guantanamo. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
Gov. Jerry Brown, vowing to "break up an expanding criminal network," signed a measure Thursday that, for the first time, provides criminal penalties for smuggling cell phones into state prisons.
The bill, SB 26 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles), makes the act of smuggling cell phones a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine per device. It also calls for inmates to forfeit time credits behind bars.
The problem of cell phone smuggling has become an epidemic behind prison walls. Last year alone, the Department of Corrections seized nearly 11,000 cell phones.
Authorities say it allows criminal enterprise to flourish, even from within cell blocks.
"They use these phones to organize gang activity, intimidate witnesses and commit crimes," Brown said Thursday in a signing message.
The legislature has been slow to impose severe criminal penalties on smuggling. Past efforts to make it a felony have failed.
Last year, then-Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure as too weak, saying, "Signing this measure would mean that smuggling a can of beer into prison carries with it a greater punishment than delivering a cell phone to the leader of a criminal street gang."
Padilla has said making the crime a misdemeanor is a good first step.
Gov. Brown also signed a companion order Thursday that calls for using technology to block cell phones signals within prison, and calls for prison staff to increase physical searches of prison visitors.