Cracking Down On Prisoner Cell Phones

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Currently, inmates aren’t allowed to have cell phones…but that’s not stopping them.  Last year the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation seized 28-hundred phones from prisoners.   That’s double the year before.  Matthew Cate is Secretary of the Department.  He says right now there are no criminal penalties for having a phone or sneaking one in.  He says they’re smuggled in by staffers and visitors – hidden in cereal boxes or cans of food.  And some prisoners hide them in their body cavities to keep them from being confiscated. 
“There is quite an incentive to bring in a cell phone.  It can be worth up to one-thousand dollars to an inmate.  We had one staff member admitting that he made 100-thousand dollars on top of his salary in one year smuggling cell phones.
Cate’s hoping a bill by Republican Senator John Benoit will change that.  The measure would make it a misdemeanor to smuggle in a phone – or for an inmate to have one.  It could result in thousands of dollars in fines and inmates could see their sentences lengthened.  Benoit says it’s a first step to addressing a major public safety problem: 
“Unfortunately they are organizing kidnappings, thefts, murders drug deals and even prison riots using their prison cell phones.”

 The bill’s been approved in the Senate public safety committee. It has bipartisan support.  However, some advocates point out that most prisoners are using the phones to talk to their families; not to commit crimes.  They the only option for prisoners is expensive pay phones – which is part of the problem.