Prison Contraband Goes Digital

Dog called in to sniff out smuggled cell phones

The California State Prison Solano houses some of the state's toughest criminals.

They're locked behind bars, but that doesn't mean they can't communicate outside their cell on cell phones.

The Department of Corrections says inmates use smuggled cell phones to deal drugs, plan escapes and order hits on other inmates.

It's one of the biggest problems facing prison leaders: prisoners communicating with each other and the outside world via cell phones.

The inmates aren't allowed to have them, but that isn't keeping some people from paying $300 to $1,000 a pop to get their hands on one.

The phones are found hidden inside food cans, cereal boxes, deodorant and in the lining of care packages.

Some of the phone are so small they are easy to hide behind electrical outlets, in plumbing and even inside someone's body.

Richard Subia with the California Department of Corrections said cell phones are considered a big problem.

"It's huge. When we first started monitoring cell phones, the first year we found a little over 1,600 to 1,700 cell phones in a whole year.  Last year we found over 2,800 cell phones and in 2009 -- the first six months -- we were already over that 2,800 number," Subia said.

Subia says the majority of cell phones are being brought into the prison gates by staff members.

One guard admitted he made $150,000 just by dealing cell phones.  And he didn't break a law.

California State Senator John Benoit said he was taken aback to learn it was legal for the guard to sell the phones.

He is now trying to change the law and make it a crime for anyone to supply inmates with cell phones. The bill would also extend prison time for inmates caught with one.

"They need a law to make it a crime for both inmates and the wardens who supply them," Benoit said.

His bill has passed both houses and will be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, a federal bill is also being proposed to jam cell phone communications inside prison walls. The earliest either could become law is next year.

While the lawmakers debate a solution, prison officials have moved forward with their own plan to catch the cell phones.

It comes in the form of a 6-year old Belgian Malanois named Ceasar.  The dog can sniff out both cell phones and phone components.

Ceasar can do in a matter of minutes what it would take a guard an hour to complete.  

In just one day, Ceasar found an object that appeared to be a watch, but was actually a phone. He also found a fan that had been equipped to charge a cell phone.

Ceasar is a one-dog band for now, but will be getting some help in his sniffing patrol in a couple weeks.

Contact Us