Courts & Crime

Smuggled cell phones problem in California prisons

Contraband smuggled into prisons has been a headache for jailers since the days of baking files into cakes.

But state prison officials say thousands of cell phones making their way into the hands of inmates are creating serious new security problems.

They get inside in myriad ways – hidden in deodorant sticks, basketballs and cans of food, or smuggled in by staffers for a price.

The devices, including sophisticated smart phones and even wrist watch phones, give inmates access to criminal associates on the outside and to the Internet, which prisoners use for social networking, credit card fraud, and even to see if new arrivals are on the Megan's List website.

"Since 2006, it's just been gradually building, but this last year it exploded," said Lt. Doug Snell at Avenal State Prison in Kings County, where 382 cell phones have been discovered so far this year among the 6,654 inmates there.

Statewide, prison officials have found 4,107 phones since Jan. 1, corrections spokesman Paul Verke said, putting the state on pace for another record year in cell phone seizures.

Last year, 6,995 cell phones were discovered, up from about 2,800 in 2008 and 1,400 the year before that.

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