California legislators trying to keep cellphones away from the state’s most dangerous inmates say an obstacle is the politically powerful prison guards union, whose members would have to be paid millions of dollars extra to be searched on their way into work, reports the Los Angeles Times. Prison employees, roughly half of whom are unionized guards, are the main source of smuggled phones that inmates use to run drugs and other crimes, say legislative analysts. Unlike visitors, staff can enter without passing through metal detectors.
Unions cite a requirement that corrections officers be paid for “walk time” — the minutes it takes them to get from the front gate to their posts. Putting metal detectors along the route, with an airport-like regimen involving removal of steel-toed boots and equipment-laden belts, could double the walk time, adding several million dollars to officers’ collective pay each year. Gov. Jerry Brown, whose campaign received generous financial support from the union and who made one of his few public appearances between the November election and his January inauguration at the union’s annual convention in Las Vegas, would not say whether searches are under review. More than 10,000 cellphones made their way into California prisons last year — up from 1,400 in 2007. Two of those wound up in the hands of Charles Manson, serving a life sentence for ordering the ritualistic murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969.