Lawmakers say guards union is a key obstacle in effort to keeping cellphones out of prisons
The guards' contract has a clause that would cost the state millions if they had to be stopped and searched on the way into work, lawmakers say, and it's prison workers who are mainly to blame for inmates like Charles Manson possessing phones.
Los Angeles Times
February 3, 2011, 1:48 p.m.
Lawmakers struggling to keep cellphones away from California's most dangerous inmates say a main obstacle is the politically powerful prison guards union, whose members would have to be paid millions of dollars extra to be searched on their way into work.
Prison employees, roughly half of whom are unionized guards, are the main source of smuggled phones that inmates use to run drugs and other crimes, according to legislative analysts who examined the problem last year. Unlike visitors, staff can enter the facilities without passing through metal detectors.
While union officials' stated position is that they do not necessarily oppose searches, they point to a clause in their contract that requires corrections officers to be paid for "walk time" – the minutes it takes them to get from the parking lot to their posts behind prison walls.
Putting metal detectors along the route, with an airport-like regimen involving removal of steel-toed boots and equipment-laden belts, could double the walk time, adding several million dollars to officers' collective pay each year, according to a 2008 Senate analysis.
Since then, cellphones have proliferated exponentially in California's state lockups. This year, state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) is calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to "put the [search] issue on the table" in contract negotiations with the California Correctional Peace Officer Assn.
"Everybody coming into the state Capitol building has to go through a metal detector….You even get searched when you go to a Lakers game," said Padilla, who for three years has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to crack down on the contraband phones. "Why don't we have that requirement at correctional facilities, of all places?"
Brown, whose campaign received generous financial support from the union and who made one of his few public appearances between the November election and his January inauguration at the union's annual convention in Las Vegas, would not say whether searches are under review.
"Our office does not discuss the details of pending contract negotiations," said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup, who noted that the prison system is testing technology to block cellphone calls in prisons.
More than 10,000 cell phones made their way into California prisons last year -- up from 1,400 in 2007, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. Two of those wound up in the hands of Charles Manson, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the ritualistic murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969.
The phones can fetch as much as $1,000 each behind prison walls, according to a recent state inspector general's report, which detailed how a corrections officer made $150,000 in a single year smuggling phones to inmates. He was fired but was not prosecuted because it is not currently against the law to take cellphones into prison, although it is a violation of prison rules to possess them behind bars.
Padilla had a bill in 2008 that would have required searches of prison staff, but it died after union officials pointed out the extra pay that would follow.
This year, Padilla, who also gets financial support from the union, has steered clear of it by omitting staff searches from a bill that would impose a $5,000 fine on anyone caught trying to smuggle a phone to an inmate. The proposal would also lengthen sentences for prisoners caught with phones by up to five years if it can be shown that they used them to commit crimes.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, saying the penalties weren't stiff enough.
Such punishment might not deter an inmate like Manson, who in all likelihood will die in prison, but the threat of added time might make other prisoners think twice about keeping a phone, Padilla said.
Prison officials added 30 days to Manson's sentence after guards found an LG flip phone under his mattress in March 2009. They found him with a second phone, equipped with a camera, on Jan. 6, Thornton said. She declined to provide details about where Manson got the phone, saying the case is still under investigation.
Analysts for the Senate Public Safety Committee who studied last year's legislation left no room for doubt about who they believed was responsible for most of the unauthorized phones.
"All indications are that the primary source of cellphones being smuggled into prisons is prison staff," they wrote. "The committee has been presented no evidence of visitors who are properly screened through metal detectors being responsible for the problem."
Guard union spokesman JeVaughn Baker said pointing the finger at corrections officers is all wrong.
"Sure, there are instances where officers have brought them in," Baker said. "But to say that prison staff are the most likely smugglers of cellphones is simply inaccurate."
Asked whether union members would be willing to forgo extra pay for standing in line at metal detectors, Baker said, "The law demands that individuals are compensated for the time that they work."
June 2021 May 2021 April 2021 March 2021 February 2021 January 2021 December 2020 November 2020 October 2020 September 2020 August 2020 July 2020 June 2020 May 2020 April 2020 March 2020 February 2020 January 2020 December 2019 November 2019 October 2019 September 2019 August 2019 July 2019 June 2019 May 2019 April 2019 March 2019 February 2019 January 2019 December 2018 November 2018 October 2018 September 2018 August 2018 July 2018 June 2018 May 2018 April 2018 March 2018 February 2018 January 2018 December 2017 November 2017 October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 June 2017 May 2017 April 2017 March 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 November 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 March 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 November 2015 October 2015 September 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 April 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008