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Charles Manson had a cellphone? California prisons fight inmate cellphone proliferation

Contraband cellphones are burgeoning among prisoners, giving them the ability to arrange crimes on the outside. Even Charles Manson was caught with one. But it's not illegal for state prisoners to possess the devices.

December 02, 2010|By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times

In September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have imposed a $5,000 fine on anyone caught giving a phone to a prisoner. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger complained that the bill did not make it a serious crime for a prisoner to possess a phone and did not include the threat of jail time for the smuggler.

"Signing this measure would mean that smuggling a can of beer into a prison carries with it a greater punishment than delivering a cellphone to the leader of a criminal street gang," Schwarzenegger wrote.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D- Pacoima), who sponsored the bill, SB 525, said he was caught between a governor who wants to put smugglers in prison and a Senate Public Safety Committee policy against adding new felonies to the state penal code for fear of exacerbating California's prison overcrowding.

Early this year, a panel of three federal judges ordered the state to reduce its prison population by some 46,000 inmates to alleviate the cramped conditions. Schwarzenegger appealed the decision; the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Tuesday.

"The fact that Charles Manson had a cellphone in prison is just further proof that the situation is out of control," a frustrated Padilla said last week. "I'm not giving up. Until we have a law on the books with real consequences, this will continue to be a danger."

State Sen. Mark Leno (D- San Francisco), who is chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee and responsible for enforcing the policy against creating new felonies, said he's not opposed to creating a felony charge to deter people from smuggling phones into prison. But he warned that courts have ruled that the prison inmate population can't be increased, so some who are currently locked up in state facilities would have to be kept in county jails.

For now, the only recourse prison officials have when they find an inmate with a phone is to charge him or her with a violation of department policy.

Prison officials would not release the identities of any of the people Manson contacted. But the entertainment news show Inside Edition broadcast recordings of a voice, identified as Manson's, on March 23, 2009. Four days later, guards found a phone during a search of Manson's cell.

One of the clips features Manson's raspy, high-pitched voice singing, "I've seen the world spinning on fire, I've danced and sang in the devil's choir."

Manson, 76, who is technically eligible for parole but will almost certainly die in prison for ordering the ritualistic murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969, had 30 days added to his sentence after his phone was discovered.

"He was counseled and reprimanded, too," Thornton said.

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