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Md. corrections officials show off new contraband detectors for prisons

Officials said the metal detectors are being used in 24 facilities across the state to curb smuggling of drugs, weapons and other items into and around prison


By Jessica Anderson
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — 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.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services purchased 161 Cellsense metal detectors. (Photo/CellSense)
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services purchased 161 Cellsense metal detectors. (Photo/CellSense)

“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 a 2013 case that garnered national attention, in which investigators found the Black Guerrilla Family gang had efffectively seized control of the Baltimore City Detention Center.

“This action is a direct result of the corruption here in Baltimore and over on the Eastern Shore” where officers and inmates ran drug operations inside and outside the facilities, and smuggled cellphones were used to intimidate witnesses and move money, Moyer said Wednesday.

In addition to spurring use of the new technology, Moyer said, those investigations also prompted closures of several outdated, unsafe facilities.

In August 2015, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closure of the Men's Detention Center in Baltimore, parts of which predate the Civil War, followed by the closure of the women’s detention center last year. The jail housed defendants awaiting trial and those serving short sentences, and was taken over by the state in 1991. Earlier this month, officials closed the Jail Industries Building.

Moyer said the addition of the new technology will also make conditions safer for corrections officers. Moyer said officials began evaluation the Cellsense technology 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 April, James Vinci, a 17-year veteran correctional officer at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, was injured in a stabbing 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, including makeshift weapons, cellphones, needles, and tattoo guns, which he said can also 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, officers can initiate a search anywhere at a facility, at any time, Stewart said.

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

J. Michael Zeigler, deputy secretary of operations for the state corrections department, said in the first month the detectors were used at the Eastern Correction Institute, officers collected 70 weapons. At one facility, the new detectors were able to locate a small sewing maching needle.

Zeigler said the new devices will be added to existing security measures, such as 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, correctional 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 then searched the mattress, finding a small needle.

Officials acknowledged, however, that 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.

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©2017 The Baltimore Sun

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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