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Senate Advances Bill To Help Stop Jail Contraband

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Both chambers of the Maryland legislature have approved bills that would raise the penalties for inmates and correctional officers caught smuggling in contraband.

On Thursday morning, the House and Senate approved parallel bills that would let administrators immediately suspend guards charged with misdemeanor contraband offenses. This would cover drugs, cellphones and cellphone accessories. These emergency suspensions would be unpaid.

By a close vote, the Senate rejected an amendment to add alcoholic beverages to the list of eligible contraband.

The House also passed a measure increasing penalties for smuggling in a cellphone to five years imprisonment and a $3,000 fine, from three years and $1,000. The offense would remain a misdemeanor.

The Senate has passed a similar bill.

Committees in both chambers considered raising it to a felony, but Del. Guy Guzzone, who sponsored both bills, said some lawmakers worry about felon status blocking offenders from opportunities later in life.

Under the new bills, inmates convicted of cellphone smuggling would serve any extra prison time on top of their current sentences.

Each bill will now go to the opposite chamber for approval.

The measures are part of a response by Maryland lawmakers this session to address a major contraband scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Last year, federal prosecutors indicted 44 people, including 27 correctional officers, for conspiring to bring contraband cellphones and drugs into the state-run facility.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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