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February 3, 2011

Charlie Manson (and lots of other California prisoners) getting access to cell phones

I am having a hard time avoiding giving some humorous spin to the news that mass murderer Charlie Manson and many others in California's prisons apparently have little problem getting access to cell phones.  This lengthy Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Lawmakers say guards union is a key obstacle in effort to keeping cellphones out of prisons," provides some interesting backstory:

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....

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....

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.

My desire to add some levity to this serious story comes from thinking about the kind of iPhone or Droid commercial that might be imagined with Manson as a spokesperson.  Or, alternatively, maybe somebody can devise an especially fitting new phone app for the apparently burgeoning prisoner cell-phone marketplace (especially since Angry Birds might give prisoners some bad ideas).

Given that Audi is previewing a Super Bowl ad features Kenny G as prison warden, the idea of turning this Manson story into a marketing ploy may already be on the minds of the folks on Madison Avenue.   Perhaps Manson keeps trying to get a cellphone so he can call an agent.

February 3, 2011 at 06:50 PM | Permalink


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This one is easy. Make it a felony to bring a cell phone into a prison except as authorized in advance. Catch a couple of guards violating this statute, loudly prosecute them, give them jailtime and a fat fine on conviction.

This will not entirely eliminate the black market for inmate cell phones. But it will cut it back a good deal.

Prison guards have a terrible and often dangerous job, but they don't get to cheat, and they don't get to sneak their way to an illicit six-figure income either.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 3, 2011 7:01:16 PM


It is quite clear from this article, that the problem really is not cell phones in prison (I wonder who owns the current prison phone systems which are monitored along with their exorbitant cost), but the corrupting power of tax dollars being used to subsidize public unions and their ability to finance elections and directly line their own pockets.

Even the DOJ (and their poor, unbiased public servants), utilize this same strategy to line their own pockets through retiree healthcare and pensions.

Prison guards have a terrible job (but a growth job, while crime is declining) through the idiotic law making of our legislators. This is possible because public school teachers have done a wonderful job of educationg their students to the dangers of electing people who would not line the education union's pockets.

How far through the elective, legislative and judicial process has this self serving influence contaminated our government?

Posted by: albeed | Feb 4, 2011 12:17:34 AM

The problems of guard corruption is not limited to cell phones but, since the "out lawing" of tobacco in some prisons, the provision of tobacco. One pack goes for 100+ USD.

Posted by: tim rudisill | Feb 4, 2011 8:02:24 AM

My husband has learned first hand what a joke prison guards are! There are a few good ones, but most are no different than the prisoners themselves. There are unacknowledged gangs and many guards respect members and leaders. They get special treatment, less checking or monitoring. There are no checks and balances on guards or really the entire BOP. The system promotes laziness, more criminal acts, creation of gangs, & violence as a way to control. The "rules" the BOP follows make no sense and only serve to frustrate the ones trying to do what is right or follow the rules or make changes for the better. The BOP responds when they feel like it and always with prepared "no" answers usually making no sense. There are many changes that could occur with the BOP that could save money, produce more civilized law abiding citizens upon release, and lower the population if it were run with rules and expectations of most business (not the corrupt ones) and not a monopoly with corrupt employees all the way up the chain...

Posted by: Fixnrlaws | Feb 4, 2011 9:30:53 AM

Ya gotta give it to Bill Otis. If nothing else he can always be depended on for consistency. Make yet another offense a felony in an already bloated, over criminalized justice system then prosecute, prosecute, prosecute.

How about fixing a couple of real problems first? Start by changing the limitations on calling and the outrageous rates that the phone system operators are allowed to charge. Both make the use of contraband cell phones more attractive. Follow the money and in all likely hood you will wind up in some politicians pocket.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2011 10:48:08 AM

Best of luck getting that bill out of committee. Even if CCPOA didn't own most of said legislators (not to mention Gov. Moonbeam redux), the Assembly Public Safety Committee is where good bills go to die.

Then even if you could get such a bill passed, you could count on our judges giving said miscreant C.O.'s probation, which given the current state of most local jails would mean little or no time IC.

Posted by: Cal. Prosecutor | Feb 4, 2011 12:04:48 PM

Anon --

Yup, guilty as charged, your Honor. I consistently believe that if you incease the costs and risks of dishonest and/or dangerous behavior, you'll get less of it. I take it that you do as well, since, while you stick your tongue out at my proposal, you conspicuously do not disagree that, if implemented, it would, in fact, tamp down on the number of illicit cell phones among the inmate population.

Cal. Prosecutor --

When a well-publicized murder or two gets arranged via a smuggled inmate cell phone, the bill will have an easier time than you think.

Still, you have a point. I take no responsibility for the California legislature or its executive branch. That it takes California about 20 years to carry out an execution tells you a lot of what you need to know about how serious it actually is about crime. In Virginia, we do it in one-third that time. And if a Virginia guard is caught smuggling a cell phone or other contraband to a prisoner, I would not want to be in his shoes.

As Rudy Giuliani vividly demonstrated years ago in NYC, if you disencentivize bad/criminal behavior, you get less of it. Human nature has not changed since then.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2011 1:48:34 PM

what gets me is why are the negotiation with ANYONE.... State makes the rules. simply take things back to where it really should be. ANYONE entering a correctional facility is subject to search....PERIOD! I have a feeling if the records were checked....that's what it says in the first place. Simply ENFORCE IT. I also agree with others...sorry it doesn't cost 7.00-8.00 dollars to make a local phone call....unless your on the MOON! any charges like that should bring CRIMINAL charges against those leveling them.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 4, 2011 7:17:46 PM


That $8.00 local phone call (paid by inmate families who are least likely able to afford it) helps the government to keep the bootheels on the throats of inmates families to pay for Bill's pension so he can double-dip and indoctrinate more soon to be unemployed young American Citizens into his ideas of justice and mercy.

Virginia doesn't care if they make mistakes. I will wait for the next appropriate post to show you how they are making more laws for overcriminalization and easier prosecution.

Bill, don't talk to me about Giuliani, he is an idiot, just a likeable idiot! Like the political idiots Spitzer (sex offender) and Schumer (three branches of government; the Congress, the Senate and the president). HELP!

Oh, I forget, I have never seen the word mercy, even for overcriminalized non-victim crimes from your lips. or SC's.

Throw the book at em Danno! The police, crime labs and and other non-questioned platitudes that have formed recent criminal legislation for prosecution, will not be questioned.

Just do what your government says. I know how we should live!

Ja wohl!

Posted by: albeed | Feb 4, 2011 10:47:50 PM

albeed you dont' need to tell me the u.s. has went NUTS as far as making new crimes. of course what do we expect. the prison industry has multi billion dollar contracts that require x number of bodies in a prison somewhere..... now that crime is at a 60% year LOW not enough asses are filling those beds....got to make new crimes and make the law more confuised so we can sucker in new victims to be worked like slaves for those billion dollar contracts.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 5, 2011 7:58:58 PM

Hmmmm... a 1,000 bucks for a cell phone. But by itself it's useless without the bulky charger with wall outlet access.

I wonder how much that the charger would bring to the black market?

Posted by: Eric Knight | Feb 6, 2011 11:20:20 AM

lol what wall charger. these are throwaways..... you get it charged...use it till it's dead or discovered....pay another 1,000 for a new one.....

chargers would only lower the need for NEW phones.....cant' make any money that way.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 6, 2011 3:57:22 PM

It is good to hear that inmates are up to the access of cell phones. But this was not supposed to be because they are getting into the information what was happening on the outside; even though this is the time for inmates to communicate on their families and relatives. Inmates must not give access cell phones.

Posted by: international call rates | Feb 14, 2011 4:40:18 AM

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