Prison employees accused of smuggling phones


Most of those employees were accused of taking the phones in for cash.

A new report from California's prison watchdog agency says 20 workers have resigned or were fired in recent months for smuggling illegal cell phones into state prisons.

They were accused of mostly selling the devices for up to $1000 cash, while some did it for love.

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

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

The former workers are charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $5,000; the inmates lose 90 days of good time credit.

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

Corrections confiscated 15,000 cell phones last year, and with the new law in effect it's on track to collect 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 cell phones 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," Matt Gray of Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety said.

The corrections department disagrees with the report's assessment of its lawyers.

But the smuggled cell phone problem won't be an issue in three years because the state will begin phasing in technology that blocks cell phone signals from devices that aren't registered at the front office taxpayers for improving public safety later this month.

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