Jailers can't keep Blackberries, phones out of jail

From urban hipsters to dirt poor Africans, everyone needs a cellphone. So why not prisoners?
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

From urban hipsters to dirt poor Africans, everyone needs a cellphone. So why not prisoners? Just because they're contraband hasn't stopped many California prisoners from smuggling in over 1,000 cellphones and Blackberries into prisons, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The problem has exploded in recent year as cell phones get smaller and are more easily concealed.

Lawmakers are concerned that phones will help criminals continue their illegal activities from prison and make it easier for gang leaders to coordinate murders, run drug operations or order the intimidation of witnesses, for example. No doubt lawmakers will ask for an investigation and draft legislation that increases penalties for those convicted of the misdemeanor.

"It is a tremendous problem," Anthony P. Kane, associate director for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told lawmakers. "Last year they [prison officials] confiscated over a thousand cellphones, including Blackberries. It breaches our security. It allows the inmates to conspire with people on the street to commit crimes."

Since May 2006, the Solano State Prison alone has confiscated 289 cellphones since May, said Lt. Tim Wamble of California State Prison, including 221 so far this year.

Gary Hearnsberger, head deputy in charge of the Hardcore Gang Division of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said that cellphones allow inmates to communicate with prisoners in different wards or institutions to coordinate criminal activity.

Prison reform advocates say the prison system encourages illegal cellphone activity because it charges four times the market rate for collect calls to their families from phones provided by the prisons.

"The bigger issue is the problem incarcerated people have keeping in contact with family members," said Cheryl Branch, project director for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches Ex-Offender Action Network. "Most individuals who find themselves incarcerated are low-income. Their families cannot afford the cost of the collect calls."

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