Prison officials test technology to deter contraband cell use

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Gov. Jerry Brown, then the California Attorney General, speaks during a news conference on Aug. 31, 2010 in Oakland. Brown announced that law enforcement officers had arrested key members of the Nuestra Familia gang who had orchestrated crimes from inside prison using cell phones. Brown called for a solution to end the use of contraband cellular phones inside prisons.

California prison officials are hosting a national conference Thursday on technology that combats contraband cell phones in prison.

Four years ago, California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confiscated 1,400 cell phones from inmates and staff. Last year, they seized 10,000.

Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton says prison officials are looking at new technology to combat the proliferation of cell phones by blocking individual cell phone signals.

"Basically you create this list of approved phone numbers and any text or call that’s coming from a phone other than what’s on that list doesn’t get through," Thornton explains.

One Mississippi prison uses the signal-blocking technology. Corrections officials in California will test it out this spring in a couple of prisons here.

They also hope to use some low tech-solutions to combat the problem.

Corrections officials can discipline employees that violate department policy against unauthorized cell phones in prison. They can reduce good time credits for inmates caught with phones. And they can prosecute an inmate caught with a cell phone — but only if they can prove it was used it to commit a crime.

That’s why corrections officials want state lawmakers to make it a crime to have a cell phone inside a prison.

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