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No more 'Dad, it's Charles Manson' calls

April 17, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Charles Manson, shown in a recent photo, was found to have a cellphone in prison a few years ago.
Charles Manson, shown in a recent photo, was found to have a cellphone in… (California Department…)

Maybe there’s something to this “let the private sector do it” mantra.

California’s prisons have been battling an epidemic of smuggled cellphones.  Heck, even Charles Manson had a couple. (And don’t you wonder who was on the other end of those calls?  I mean, he’s been in prison for four decades. How many friends in the real world can he have?)

Anyway, various solutions have been proposed, including bills in the Legislature that would get tough on phone smugglers and that would permit random searches of prison employees.

But the solution may turn out to be a private-sector one. As Times staff writer Jack Dolan reported Tuesday:

A private company has agreed to pay millions to install technology in California prisons to block Web searches, text messages and phone calls by inmates using smuggled phones.

The deal won't cost taxpayers a dime, state officials insist, because the company, Global Tel Link, also owns the traditional pay phones prisoners can legally use. Company officials are betting that once the contraband cell devices are disabled, demand for pay phones will skyrocket.

Isn’t free enterprise great?

And it doesn’t even appear to be a tough technological fix:

Basically, each prison will get its own cell tower, which prison officials will be able to control. They'll make a list of approved phones that can send and receive signals, and all others will be rendered useless. Installing the systems at all 33 California prisons could cost between $16.5 million and $33 million.

And Global Tel Link’s angle?

The payoff for the firm is expected to come entirely from increased demand. Last year, a one-day test of a similar system at a single California prison intercepted more than 4,000 attempts to place calls, send text messages or access the Internet, prison officials said.

Use of pay phones, which are recorded and monitored by prison guards, went up 64% in the days after the test.

Why, it’s enough to make you want to run out and re-register as a Republican. Heck, let’s sell those parks to Coca-Cola after all.  Let Taco Bell run the school cafeterias. Police department courtesy of Smith & Wesson -- why not? And a Sentry Safe Fire Department? You bet.

OK, easy there, John D. Rockefeller. Maybe not.

But this cellphone deal appears to be a win-win-win-win. (OK, yes, it’s a loss for the inmates.)

The public is protected from prisoners who used the smuggled phones to continue criminal enterprises.  The taxpayers get a free solution. Prison employees don’t have to explain why they don’t want to be searched even though some of the phones apparently came from them.

And somewhere in California, New Jersey, Florida and British Columbia, there are folks who won’t have to worry that, when answering the phone, they’ll hear, “Hi, it’s Charlie.”

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