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Prisons crack down on hidden cell phones

December 3, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Could state prison inmates be directing crimes from behind bars? Thousands of them are hiding cell phones. Even the notorious convict Charles Manson had one. It's a growing problem in the state prisons. Prison officials are having a tough time getting rid of the phones. Specially trained dogs are playing a key role in finding smuggled cell phones inside California state prisons.

The contraband cell phone problem is so bad, officials can't even keep them from notorious mass murderer Charles Manson. He made calls and texted people in Massachusetts, Florida and California, from his prison cell.

"It's very troubling. This is someone who got other people to murder on his behalf and unfortunately, people are still fascinated," said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the California Corrections Dept.

One of Manson's friends released a phone conversation to entertainment show "Inside Edition." Four days later guards found an LG flip phone under his mattress. Manson got 30 days added to his sentence.

Prison searches netted 1,400 cell phones statewide in 2007.

This year, the number is approaching 9,000.

And they're being found everywhere. They're also inside cakes that visitors bring in.

Gang members and other violent criminals have been known to order "hits" from inside prison walls.

"They plan escapes and coordinate escapes with them," said Thornton. "We have evidence of this. We have evidence that they threaten witnesses, threaten victims."

Cell phones are a premium, fetching as much as $1,000 each.

One corrections officer who has since been fired made $140,000 one year smuggling the devices to inmates.

"They can hide them virtually anywhere. They have 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year to figure out where to hide them," said Tim Virga, acting Folsom Prison warden.

Inmates said they need cell phones to avoid high fees when making collect calls from pay phones. Contact helps them maintain their family bonds.

Lawmakers are trying to crack down on the problem, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill this year that would have imposed a $5,000 fine to cell-phone smugglers. He thought that was too light when compared to smuggling a can of beer into prison, which is a misdemeanor.


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