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Update: This post has been updated to reflect a decision to pull back bill after initial passage.

California's prisons are keeping up, it would appear, with the proliferation of cellphones and other portable communication devices in the wider society.

State prison officials say they confiscated 261 contraband cellphones in 2006, but the number zoomed to 992 in 2007 and 2,629 in 2008. The phones, they say, are used not only to keep in touch with friends and family but allow inmates - especially gang leaders - to continue their criminal ways by long-distance.

The phones, like drugs and other contraband, are smuggled into prisons by visitors, despite metal detector and personal searches, and by prison guards. The going price appears to be around $1,000 for a no-name "throwaway" phone that can be purchased for a few dollars outside prison walls.

The increasing traffic in contraband cellphones prompted Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, to introduce legislation, Senate Bill 525, that makes possession of a cellphone or cellphone components with intent to deliver to a prison inmate a misdemeanor crime with up to a $5,000 fine.

The legislation cleared the Senate on a 34-0 vote, but rather than send it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Padilla held it back and it's still pending in the Senate as the session nears its conclusion.

The measure, as now written, would also allow prison officials to confiscate any cellphone or other wireless device brought into the prison by a visitor, must return it when the visitor leaves the prison.


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