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Lawmaker seeks penalties for prison cell phone smuggling

Charles Manson in 2009, left, and in 1970.
Charles Manson in 2009, left, and in 1970.AP

A lawmaker in California has had it with the hijinks of prison inmates who get cell phones smuggled to them, and plans to introduce legislation to criminalize cell phones in prison.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, said Thursday he is introducing Senate Bill 26 in the coming weeks in the California Legislature. Inmates who are found with a cell phone in their possession could lose credit for time served, and inmates who use a cell phone "to facilitate a crime" could face added time served of two, three or five years. The bill would also make it a misdemeanor, with a maximum $5,000 fine possible, for prison employees and visitors who have the "intent" to smuggle or give a cell phone to an inmate.  

The announcement about the bill comes a day after news that killer Charles Manson was caught a second time with a smuggled cell phone in his prison cell in early January. Last year, prison guards discovered that Manson had a cell phone hidden under his mattress. He used the phone to call and text people in California, Florida, New Jersey and British Columbia.

In December, The Los Angeles Times reported that contraband cell phones "are becoming so prevalent in California prisons that guards can't keep them out of the hands of the most ... violent inmates: Even Charles Manson, orchestrator of one of the most notorious killing rampages in U.S. history," referring to the 1969 murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six other people.

President Barack Obama signed a bill last August that bans cell phones from federal prisons and makes it a crime that is punishable by up to a year in jail for smuggling one in, the Times wrote. But the bill does not apply to state prison facilities. And that's where Manson, 76, is housed, at Corcoran State Prison, in Kings County, Calif.

Padilla vowed then to put a stop to the nonsense, although he has tried unsuccessfully before, in 2009 and in 2007.

"Last year more than 10,000 cell phones were confiscated in California prisons," Padilla said in a news release about the current bill. "Violent inmates with cell phones are a clear and present threat to public safety.  This is a very serious problem and I will continue to do all I can to reduce that threat,” said Padilla.

Another state senator, Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, has just introduced a bill that would require the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to do random searches of employees and vendors who enter prisons, in an effort to find contraband like cell phones.

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