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California prison workers smuggled cellphones for love, money, report says

October 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new report from California's prison watchdog agency says 20 workers have resigned or were fired in recent months for illegally smuggling cellphones into state prisons. Those workers were accused of mostly selling the devices for up to $1,000 cash, while some did it for love.

"Sometimes, some do develop an inappropriate relationship with inmates, and cellphones are introduced that way to keep in contact with that inmate when they're not at the prison," said Dana Simas of the California Corrections Department.

The report compiled by the Office of the Inspector General noted cases where an inmate was caught with nude photos on his cellphone sent to him by a female guard. In another case, a prison office worker snuck in a phone to an inmate suspected of fathering her child.

The former workers were charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $5,000. The inmates lost 90 days of good time credit.

"We have tens of thousands of employees that have direct contact with prisoners," Simas said. "With tens of thousands of employees, there are going to be a few bad apples."

Corrections confiscated 15,000 cellphones last year, and with the new law in effect, it's on track to collecting 12,000 this year.

The inspector general's report suggests more workers should lose their jobs, but it's nearly impossible to fire them, given what's been characterized as shoddy work done by the Corrections Department's lawyers. It accuses prison lawyers of incomplete legal paperwork, missed deadlines and in one instance, the attorney falling asleep during interviews.

The goal of stopping the flow of cellphones is to prevent gang members from orchestrating more crime from behind bars.

"It translates into problems for us taxpayers out on the street in the form of increased drug activity, hits being called out and the continuing with other criminal activity," said Matt Gray of Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety.

The Corrections Department disagrees with the report's assessment of its lawyers. But the smuggled cellphone problem won't be an issue in three years because this month the state will begin phasing in technology that blocks cellphone signals from devices that aren't registered at the front office.


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