(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

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The audio is of a conversation I had with Najee Ali last week while he was still incarcerated in Avenal State Prison, and on a cellphone.  Released Friday, March 18, Najee Ali talked about the use of cellphones in prisons this morning on the Front Page heard on Radio Free 102.3 KJLH.  Check it out–good stuff and real talk…

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The CA Prison Guard Union vs. the Telecommunications Industry with Senator Padilla trying to play to both parties—but in the end who’s really zooming who?

Now I’m no rocket scientist but I know that if Senator Alex Padilla and cohorts are really serious about curbing the use of cellphones by prisoners it begins and ends with California’s prison guards.  So any bill advancing its way through our state’s legislative system that doesn’t call for prison guards to be searched—by an agency other than their own for obvious reasons—is not only a colossal waste of time, but also of our taxpayer dollars and really begs the question, do Padilla and friends really believe their own hype?

I say hype because it’s being claimed by Padilla that prisoners are using cellphones to order hits, conduct drug trafficking, and other illegal behavior from behind bars.  And let’s just say that I actually bought the hype around SB 26, if the bill is intended to actually save lives, curb gang violence, and stop drugs from flowing into our neighborhoods, how exactly is that supposed to happen if the main suppliers of the cellphones are exempt—and no I am not talking about Motorola.

So maybe Senator Padilla can answer the question, how much is too much when it comes to saving a life or stopping the flow of illegal drugs into our communities?

Is the millions the state would spend implementing the mandatory screening of prison guards for cellphone trafficking too much to save a life or community from the harmful effects of illegal drugs?  Or are the potential campaign dollars from the telecommunications companies to his campaign coiffures simply too much to risk?

After mail, payphones used to be the only lifeline to the outside for prisoners—that is until the introduction of cellphone behind the walls.

And today, while we have a choice on whether or not have a home phone or just use our mobile service, telecommunications companies don’t want to lose their cash cow inside of the prisons where they traditionally charge higher rates for phone service. To them prisoners with mobile phones is as bad cable companies with broadband—another and often better option.

So how does Padilla satisfy a powerful union that can make or break him and still keep thousands in campaign contributions from telecommunications companies who want to see more prisoners back on their phones and less using cellphones?

Answer: He allows the most controversial part of the bill that would actually stop the use of cellphones to be removed—the searching of prison guards. Then he continues to move the bill along like business as usual.  The prison guards are happy and the telecommunications companies and their PACs like the AT&T California Employee PAC continues to shell out $5,300 to his re-election campaign along with the folks over at the California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies, who are always working to advance the interests of fair and open competition.

But there isn’t anything fair or open about it at the end of the day.

If a life is in fact priceless then the millions it would take to implement SB 26 really shouldn’t be an issue for anyone in Sacramento—Padilla, the Public Safety Committee, or the legislative analysts.  But then again, whose lives are we talking about?

Let’s say Prisoner X is locked up behind bars ordering hits, it’s highly doubtful Sally White of Nice Suburb,USA is on his list.  But what about Joe Black or Jose Brown whose neighborhoods are about to get a fresh shipment of cocaine thanks to Prisoner X and his cellphone?  Cocaine that Jose Brown might sell to Joe Black causing Jose to get arrested for the sale and distribution of narcotics and Joe for robbing the local liquor store in an attempt to pay for Jose’s cocaine.  Either way, seems to me there’s two new prisoner’s headed into California’s prison system and two more people in need of being guarded 24 hours seven days a week.

If you ask the family members and friends of prisoners—who are more often than not on the receiving end of the calls placed on the phones in question—they would tell you tell they are the one being called and that those calls allow them to keep in touch with their loved ones who are more often than not behind bars serving length sentences or LWOP, life without the possibility of parole, in remote and hard to get to areas.  And with gas prices the way they are these days—let’s just say a phone call can go a long ways when you can’t get there to visit.

The bottom line is that Padilla could have saved us all time and money and just put forth a senate resolution, because after stripping the provision for guards to be checked, it’s practically the same thing—another piece of feel good but does nothing legislation.