Prison union battles staff searches

May 15, 2011

Random staff searches that are part of an effort to curb the smuggling of cell phones into state prisons are drawing objections from the powerful union representing correctional officers. [CaliforniaWatch]

Union officials contend the monthly searches of all employees are overly intrusive and misguided. The two-year program dubbed Operation Disconnect  was enacted after 10,000 cell phones were taken from prisoners last year.

Even though fewer than 500 cell phones have been confiscated under the program, some lawmakers still suspect prison employees are the main suppliers of cell phones that are reaching inmates in ever-larger numbers.

But Joe Baumann, a chapter president with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, told California Watch the modest results suggest the program is targeting the wrong people.

“Staff are just a small part of the problem,” Baumann said. “If an employee is dirty, word gets out pretty quickly.

“There are no boundaries as far as how invasive the searches are,” he added. “People have had to take off jumpsuits, pull off vests, pull up T-shirts. They’re setting themselves up for litigation with the way they’re doing this.”

California does not routinely search staff as they enter state prisons, unlike many other states and the federal government.

Some state officials have said they would like to impose airport-like security checks on staff at all state prisons.

But Baumann told California Watch such a move would require the state to renegotiate its contract with the union and would add to the time it takes correctional officers to get from their cars, or the prison gate, to their work stations. Union members are paid for this “walk time.” Added walk time could cost the state millions, according to some analysts.

While union officials are pushing for fewer searches, lawmakers are calling for new legislation that would toughen security and sanctions.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein appealed to the state Senate Appropriations Committee to revive a bill that would stiffen the penalties for smuggling cell phones into California prisons.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, is sponsoring legislation that would transfer oversight for searches of prison staff to the inspector general’s office “to ensure there is a neutral third party watching these to ensure their integrity.”

Alquist told California Watch the department’s current program isn’t going far enough.


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29 Comments

  1. Paperboys says:

    What’s the big deal? Let the inmates have cell phones, then monitor each and every call, could lead to some good intel for busting other crooks on the outside.
    The crooks know the game, you don’t conduct illegal activity on a cell phone, ever, period. Bust a few at each prison, add years onto their sentences and they’ll stop this themselves. Big Brother watching you, don’t you know.
    As for the smuggling guards, prison guards have been corrupt for as long as there have been prisons. There should be consequences though for this. I like the idea of taking away pensions, that might just work.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. SLOBIRD says:

    “Hello, is this Charlie Manson? Yes, I was trying to reach him. He’s in the shower singing in his confined cell, serving life sentences for murder. Yea, but he’s not answering his cell phone and I was hoping I could get his new phone number since I hear he lost his other phone. OK, I’ll call later when he’s out of the shower and no one is watching…”

    (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
  3. knows1 says:

    A quote from the above article:
    ” But Joe Baumann, a chapter president with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, told California Watch the modest results suggest the program is targeting the wrong people.
    “Staff are just a small part of the problem,” Baumann said. “If an employee is dirty, word gets out pretty quickly.”

    BS. When an employee is dirty (smuggling things into prisoners) some of the others want to know how they can do the same.
    I’ll bet there isn’t a single documented situation where a guard tipped off authorities about a dirty employee. This goes against the “code”. A union employee is not going to risk his own position (and $100,000 +) position to ratt out another employee.
    Nice try Joe.

    (13) 15 Total Votes - 14 up - 1 down
    • Cindy says:

      The guards have no problem searching anyone that comes to visit an incarcerated loved one and if they are suspicious of that individual, I hear those searches can become rather invasive and humiliating. There is no way on this earth that the prison guards would ever agree to allow visitation without a right to search anyone and everyone for any reason or even no reason, from the demure girlfriend to grandma to the preacher, everyone is subject to search.

      Regardless, even with this ability to search all visitors, cell phones are still being found in large numbers. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I don’t hear the CO’s voicing their concerns about anybody else’s rights when it comes to safety and yet someone is bringing in that contraband.

      This isn’t a whole lot different than the cop’s not wanting to be drug tested, those who give it don’t seem to be able to take it themselves, what is wrong with this picture?

      (11) 15 Total Votes - 13 up - 2 down
      • deedub says:

        And let us not forget the babies that have been found with cell phones secreted in their diapers.

        (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
    • r0y says:

      Yeah! If “staff are just a small part of the problem” are we supposed to believe that visiting friends/family are the larger part? They get searched, so that can’t be. If staff is the small part, what is the large part, Mr. Baumann. That’s what I would have asked.

      Good point, knows1!

      (5) 7 Total Votes - 6 up - 1 down

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