A new law that authorizes the use of “managed access technology” to block wireless transmissions in California prisons is now on the books in California.

SB 26, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima and signed by California Gov. Edmund G. Brown on Oct. 6, is effective immediately. The law also imposes stiff penalties for the possession and smuggling of cell phones in state penal facilities.

“We know that inmates with cell phones are ordering murders, organizing escapes, facilitation drug deals, controlling street gangs and terrorizing rape victims,” Padilla said in a statement. “Beginning today, this new law provides the tools to crack down on cell phones in California’s prisons and stop these criminal acts.”

The law authorizes the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to use technology to identify unauthorized cellular transmissions and disrupt incoming and outgoing calls, text messages and e-mails within a defined perimeter.

When contacted by Government Technology via e-mail in September, Joe Panora, CDCR’s CIO and director of enterprise information services said CDCR was in the midst of a “competitive procurement” of the managed access technology.

“The Managed Access System (MAS) is meant to provide interruption of unauthorized cellular wireless devices without the interference of authorized wireless [equipment] and other emergency response communications,” Panora said. “MAS will be deployed at all CDCR adult institutions and juvenile facilities. The system will be hosted and centrally managed by the contractor and administration.”

Until the procurement process for the MAS has concluded will CDCR be looking at other temporary ways to block cell signals and impede cell usage?

Speaking with Government Technology on Thursday, Oct. 6, Panora said that CDCR’s correctional security technology transfer committee will likely take a look at interim technologies as long as they don’t interfere with the ongoing MAS invitation for bid (IFB).

“That’s probably something our department will probably be taking a much closer look at to see where there are some possibilities that might exist,” Panora said. “Stuff like dogs and airport securities and those types of things wouldn’t have any impact to our current IFB process. That’s all part of the overall integrated cell phone interdiction strategy.”

It is now considered a misdemeanor for smuggling a cell phone into a California prison and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $5,000 per device. Inmates found in possession of a mobile device will be subject to loss of good-time credits. Good- time credits are compiled to shorten the time a prisoner actually has to serve on a sentence.

According to a statement released by Padilla’s office, the number of cell phones confiscated in California prisons has grown tremendously in the last five years. The senator’s office reported that in 2006, prison officials confiscated 261 cell phones in California prisons, a number that rose to 10,761 in 2010.

“Cell phones in the hands of inmates are a clear and present threat to the safety of correctional officers, victims and the public,” added Padilla in a press release.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.