Pris­ons get de­tec­tors to stop con­tra­band

De­vices can find weapons, cell­phones, and even a nee­dle hid­den in a mat­tress

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - Jkan­der­son@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jan­ders5

Mary­land cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials on Wed­nes­day an­nounced $1.8 mil­lion worth of ad­vanced metal de­tec­tors that can lo­cate the small­est pieces of con­tra­band, after sev­eral high-pro­file in­ci­dents that in­cluded a large-scale fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion at the state’s largest prison last year.

The Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices pur­chased 161 Cellsense metal de­tec­tors. Of­fi­cials said they are be­ing used in all 24 fa­cil­i­ties across the state to curb smug­gling of drugs, weapons and other items into and around pris­ons.

“This equip­ment is a game-changer,” said Stephen T. Moyer, the state’s pub­lic safety sec­re­tary, at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day morn­ing in­side Baltimore’s Cen­tral Book­ing and In­take Fa­cil­ity. “Cellsense bet­ter de­tects cell­phones and weapons that cause prison vi­o­lence and vi­o­lence in jails.”

The de­vices, which were put in use about a month ago, can be moved around facil­ties and can de­tect small pieces of metal in­side a per­son’s body and even through a wall.

The state pur­chased them after fed­eral au­thor­i­ties an­nounced the largest fed­eral in­dict­ment in Mary­land his­tory last year at the East­ern Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in Westover. Dozens of cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers and in­mates were charged in an al­leged con­spir­acy to smug­gle heroin, co­caine, cell­phones, pornog­ra­phy and other con­tra­band into the fa­cil­ity.

That in­ves­ti­ga­tion was sim­i­lar to the 2013 fed­eral in­dict­ment in which in­ves­ti­ga­tors found the Black Guer­rilla Fam­ily gang had ef­fec­tively seized con­trol of the Baltimore City De­ten­tion Cen­ter to run drug op­er­a­tions in­side and out­side the fa­cil­ity, and used smug­gled cell­phones to in­tim­i­date wit­nesses and move money.

“This ac­tion is a di­rect re­sult of the cor­rup­tion here in Baltimore and over on the East­ern Shore,” Moyer said Wed­nes­day.

In ad­di­tion to spurring use of the new tech­nol­ogy, Moyer said, those in­ves­ti­ga­tions also prompted the clo­sure of sev­eral out­dated, un­safe fa­cil­i­ties.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan or­dered the clo­sure of the Men's De­ten­tion Cen­ter in Baltimore, parts of which pre­date the Civil War, in 2015, and the clo­sure of the women’s de­ten­tion cen­ter last year. Of­fi­cials closed the Jail In­dus­tries Build­ing this month.

Moyer said the new tech­nol­ogy will make con­di­tions safer for cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers. He said of­fi­cials be­gan eval­u­at­ing Cellsense after the death of a vet­eran cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer at a Delaware prison in Fe­bru­ary.

Sgt. Steven Floyd, 47, was found dead after a nearly 20-hour hostage stand­off at the James T. Vaughn Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Smyrna, Del.

In April, James Vinci, a 17-year vet­eran Dorsey Run Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity se­cu­rity chief Damean Ste­wart talks dur­ing a demon­stra­tion of the Cellsense de­vice, which found a ra­zor blade. cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer at the North Branch Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in Cum­ber­land, was stabbed by an in­mate.

Damean Ste­wart, se­cu­rity chief at the Dorsey Run Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in Jes­sup, said cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers have found “a lot more” con­tra­band items us­ing the new de­tec­tors. He said the items have in­cluded makeshift weapons, cell­phones, nee­dles, and tat­too guns, which he said can pose risks for of­fi­cers do­ing searches.

Often, he said, in­mates will see the de­tec­tion de­vices and vol­un­tar­ily hand over items.

Be­cause the de­vices can be moved, Ste­wart said, of­fi­cers can ini­ti­ate a search any­where at a fa­cil­ity, at any time.

“It’s def­i­nitely an as­set,” he said. “They are not go­ing to beat that ma­chine.”

In the first month the de­tec­tors were used at the East­ern Cor­rec­tion In­sti­tute, of­fi­cials said, of­fi­cers col­lected 70 weapons. At one fa­cil­ity, the new de­tec­tors were able to lo­cate a small sewing ma­chine nee­dle.

J. Michael Zei­gler, deputy sec­re­tary of op­er­a­tions for the cor­rec­tions depart­ment, said the de­vices are be­ing added to ex­ist­ing se­cu­rity mea­sures, which in­clude stan­dard sta­tion­ary metal de­tec­tors and drug- and cell­phone-sniff­ing dogs.

“It’s go­ing to be a force mul­ti­plier,” he said.

At Wed­nes­day’s news con­fer­ence, cor­rec­tions spokesman Ger­ard Shields donned a bright yel­low jump­suit with the let­ters “DPDS” on the back and demon­strated the ac­cu­racy of the Cellsense de­vice. He walked through the de­tec­tors car­ry­ing a prison mat­tress, trig­ger­ing the de­vice. A cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer searched the mat­tress and found a small nee­dle.

Of­fi­cials said the re­source­ful­ness of in­mates still poses a chal­lenge.

“There’s al­ways a cat-and-mouse game. We try to stay ahead of it,” Zei­gler said.

JES­SICA AN­DER­SON/BALTIMORE SUN

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