Cell Phone Smuggling All the Rage at Calif. Prisons

 Smuggling of cell phones into prisons is on the rise in California, prompting lawmakers to join together to propose criminal penalties to deter inmates, their associates, visitors and staff from using them.

"Public safety officials in prisons and prosecutors on the outside need additional tools to combat cell phone smuggling to inmates," Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "Illegal cell phones are used to circumvent supervision of conversations and can be used by inmates to orchestrate criminal activity, plan escapes and be a menace outside of prison walls."

Sen. John Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, introduced Senate Bill 434, which would make it a misdemeanor for a prisoner to possess a cell phone in any state prison. The bill would also make it a misdemeanor for anyone to attempt to smuggle a cell phone into a state prison. Current law makes it a misdemeanor, with a fine of less than $1,000, for the unauthorized possession of a cell phone in county jail only.

"Smuggled cell phones empower dangerous gangs, including organized criminal networks, which are deeply rooted in our prison system," Benoit added in a news release. "We know that inmates smuggle cell phones into prison or coax others to sneak the phones in for them when they come to visit."

Discoveries of contraband cell phones in California prisons doubled in 2008 from the year before, with over 2,800 seized. A standardized reporting system was put in place by CDCR last year to allow all prisons to uniformly report the number of confiscated phones.

Prison staff currently has the ability to monitor all inmate calls that are made through the traditional inmate phone system. Contraband cell phones circumvent this system, and have been used by inmates to coordinate escapes, communicate with inmates in other prisons, and direct illegal activities on the streets, the state said.

The legislation, which is supported by the Schwarzenegger administration, is co-authored by Sens. Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley; Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar; and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

This article originally appeared on KCRA.com

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