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Phones in prison: We should have listened to Schwarzenegger [Blowback]

August 22, 2011 |  6:03 pm


Adam Mendelsohn, director of communications under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, responds to The Times' Aug. 14 editorial, "Cut off cellphones in prison cells." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

The Times is exactly right to point out in its editorial the severe problem of cellphones being smuggled into our state's prisons. In fact, the editorial board may take too light a view of the dangers that can result. It's not just about celebrity inmates and online harassment; it is a matter of inmates planning prison assaults, intimidating witnesses in court cases and orchestrating the activities of criminal street gangs from behind bars.

It's a serious problem that requires a serious solution.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger correctly pointed out the problem years ago, establishing a program within the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to study cellphone jamming and detection, to conduct random searches at prisons and even to use trained dogs to help in uncovering contraband devices. In 2009, his administration also sponsored common-sense legislation to make cellphone smuggling a felony.

However, in years past the Legislature showed it was incapable of real reform, passing only watered-down laws that would have had no noticeable effect on the safety of prison workers or innocent crime victims.

This is a governor who, over his seven years in office, established an incredibly strong record on public safety, on protecting the rights of crime victims and of pushing for reform in our broken state prison system.

So, in this instance, Schwarzenegger made a policy call: He chose not to sign a weak bill that would have provided only a PR opportunity, and to push the Legislature to send to the governor's desk a meaningful bill -- specifically one that included jail time for this offense.

It turned out to be the right call.

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) this year crafted a tougher piece of legislation,  one that would put cellphone smugglers in jail for as much as six months rather than just imposing a modest monetary fine like last year's bill.

This new bill is much tougher on this serious crime and shows that Schwarzenegger was right years ago in pushing our legislators toward real reform. The Times ought to take a broader view of this issue, or it risks coming off as shortsighted as the hundreds of ineffective bills produced by Sacramento each year.

-- Adam Mendelsohn


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Photo: San Quentin state prison. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press

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