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California's prisons: Like Apple stores -- with fringe benefits

October 15, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Twenty employees of California prisons have resigned or been fired in recent months after allegedly smuggling cellphones into state prison facilities.
Twenty employees of California prisons have resigned or been fired in recent… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

It’s true that many people find romance at work. After all, most of us spend a lot of time at work, and the people at work often share our interests and desires.

But who knew that was also true at California prisons? As my colleague Jack Dolan reported Sunday:

Twenty California prison employees suspected of smuggling cellphones to inmates have resigned or were fired in recent months, according to a report from the state's prison watchdog agency. Most of those employees were accused of taking the phones in for cash, while others were suspected of doing it for love or something like it, according to the report.

One inmate caught with a phone had text messages and nude photos sent by a female guard, the report says. Another inmate was caught with love letters and a childhood photo from a guard accused of providing him the phone. And a female prison office worker was accused of smuggling a phone to an inmate who is suspected of fathering her child. When prosecutors reviewing the case for possible criminal charges requested a DNA sample from the clerk, she resigned, the report states.

Wow. Apparently in the Golden State, the Love Boat makes frequent trips up the river to the Big House!

And apparently, this happens despite the fact that employees get hanky-panky avoidance lessons:

Though employees are trained to avoid amorous entanglements with inmates, there are "always some bad apples," prison spokeswoman Dana Simas said.

“Bad apples”? Oh, that must be prison slang for “really stupid ones.”

California just can’t seem to get it right in its correctional facilities. In L.A. County jails, the problem is deputies taking a, shall we say, tough love approach to their jobs.

Meanwhile, in the state’s toughest prisons, some gang members are kept in solitary confinement for long stretches, conditions that Amnesty International recently called "cruel, inhuman or degrading … in violation of international law."

And now we learn that for still other inmates, prison is like an Apple store -- with fringe benefits.

Not only that, but the problem of cellphones in prison isn’t confined to a few bad apples, unless Charles Manson fits that bill for you (and if so, please don’t email me!).

Now prison spokeswoman Simas says she would “caution against portraying [employees] as the only way cellphones are coming in" to prisons.

The main source, she said, is inmates let out for work duty who pick up stashes of the devices dropped by co-conspirators outside the fence.  

Asked if the prisoners are searched upon their return, Simas said, "Yes, but they don't do a strip search every time inmates come back."

Simas said she did not have statistics comparing the number of phones brought in by inmates versus those taken in by staff.

So, in a nutshell: The guards aren’t the main culprits, although there are no statistics to back that up. But the guards do know how most cellphones get in. They just don’t bother to take the extra step to prevent that smuggling.

And they wonder why people don't like the prison guards union!

Of course, this being the 21st century, and this being a somewhat 21st century problem, there’s a 21st  century solution on the way: The company that supplies pay phones in prisons is installing "managed" cellphone towers at all of the state’s correctional institutions. Only approved phones will work, making smuggled phones useless. The system is to be completed by 2015.

So that should solve the problem. Unless, of course, some employees smuggle in approved cellphones — oops, I mean, someone (not an employee) stashes approved cellphones outside for inmates, and someone (yes, an employee) neglects to search them when they come in.

Gee, kinda makes you nostalgic for the good old days of Andy, his rock hammer and his Rita Hayworth poster in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

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