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Calif. lawmakers crack down on smuggled prison cellphones

March 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A bill in Sacramento aiming to crack down on cellphones smuggled in to state prison inmates passed on Tuesday.

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) tried for the third time to pass a law that cracks down on illegal cellphones in California prisons by going after both the smuggler and the inmate with misdemeanor charges that involve jail time and stiff fines.

In the end, a watered-down proposal passed that included an inmate's loss of up to six months of good behavior credit for possessing a cellphone.

Over the years, the problem has gotten so bad, even notorious mass murderer Charles Manson was caught twice with a cellphone.

The California Corrections Department confiscated more than 2,000 from inmates in the first two months of 2011 alone.

"Nowhere in the nation is the problem bigger than it is right now here in the state of California, yet since 2006, we have failed to act," Padilla said.

Even the Corrections Department asked for help because they know what inmates can do with a cellphone.

Terri McDonald, of the Corrections Department, said there's "the ability to terrorize victims in the community, the ability to call for murders in the community."

But because of California's prison overcrowding problem, bills calling for enhanced sentences are tough to pass.

The Senate Public Safety Committee has a ban on anything that adds to the overcrowding.

Karen Carrisosa, the wife of a murder victim, says it's better than nothing. Her husband's killer was recently caught with a smartphone while updating his Facebook page.

"It's like a kick in the face," Carrisosa said. "He took my husband. He shouldn't have those leisured of a phone."

Corrections is trying new technology that blocks unauthorized cell phone calls from prison. In one day, in one yard, the system detected nearly 500 devices and blocked more than 4,000 attempts to text, make calls or get on the Internet.