Dozens of Cali Prison Staff Caught Smuggling

By McCarton Ackerman 10/15/12

Over 50 California prison employees are accused of involvement in smuggling cellphones, motivated by money—or love. 

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It's not just the inmates who smuggle contraband into prisons—Californian prison employees have also been getting in on the act. A report from the state's prison watchdog agency reveals that more than 20 prison employees suspected of smuggling cellphones to inmates have resigned or been fired in recent months. And altogether, 54 employees have been accused of smuggling phones; the allegations were dropped in 13 of those cases, while the rest remain under investigation. Smuggling cell phones to prisoners was made a federal crime last year, and is now punishable by up to six months' in prison. Cell phones are used to run street gangs, intimidate witnesses, plan assaults on guards and deal drugs from behind bars.

Most of the busted phone-smugglers did it for the money—cell phones can fetch up to $1,000 inside. But others did it for love, after becoming romantically involved with an inmate: one of the phones confiscated in California contained text messages and nude photos sent by a female guard, while a female prison office worker is suspected of smuggling a phone to a prisoner who's believed to have fathered her child—she resigned when prosecutors requested a DNA sample. Manipulating the affections of prison staff members (despite their training to avoid this) is routine, prisoners recently told The Fix: "My man pushed up on this young rookie C/O. She was green as hell," said one. "He laid it on her real smooth, had her bringing him food, chewing gum, jewelry and it wasn't two months later she was bringing in packages for him. He finessed that girl something fierce. She was in love with him." Officials say they've confiscated fewer phones in recent months; they're on track to recover 12,000 this year, down from 15,000 last year.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.