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New technology has some Maryland inmates tossing their shanks

mattress

Maryland correction officials Wednesday demonstrate new technology designed to detect contraband hidden in mattresses, books or in human cavities. (Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland corrections officials say new technology deployed in prisons around the state will make it tougher for inmates to smuggle in and hide weapons and contraband.

The system, called Cellsense, allows corrections officers to detect items through walls or concealed in books, mattresses or inside the human body — including those as small as a sewing needle.

Corrections Secretary Stephen T. Moyer said word of the devices caused almost immediate results at the Eastern Correctional Institution.

“Just the mere announcement that they were bringing the Cellsense unit onto a wing, the inmates started discarding their shanks on to the floor,” Moyer said. “The word is getting out.”

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, through an emergency procurement, purchased 161 units at a total cost of $1.8 million.

Maryland correction officials Wednesday demonstrate new technology designed to detect contraband hidden in mattresses, books or in human cavities. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland correction officials Wednesday demonstrate new technology designed to detect contraband hidden in mattresses, books or in human cavities. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

“Today, we’re putting all the inmates on notice that this equipment is here,” Moyer said.

The units are more sensitive than standard metal detectors, officials said.

Deputy Secretary J. Michael Zeigler said the equipment “is already paying dividends.”

“At our Western Maryland Correctional Institution, 30 weapons were discarded by inmates knowing we had the machines in place,” Zeigler said. “At our Eastern Correctional Institution, corrections officers collected 24 weapons on the first day and over the last month have collected over 70 weapons as a result of using Cellsense.”

A sewing machine needle accidentally left inside a mattress was detected by the machines, Zeigler said.

In a demonstration Wednesday, a corrections department official posing as an inmate showed how the technology could detect razor blades hidden in his mouth and later a cell phone the size of a standard luxury car key as well as a small sewing needle hidden in a mattress.

Officials said the machines, which are smaller than standard metal detectors, are fully mobile, allowing corrections officers to move them rapidly.

“The machines can be set up to work in covert operations that are only left to the imagination of the operator,” Zeigler said.

The purchase of the new equipment is a result of corruptions cases involving corrections officers at facilities in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore and attacks on two corrections officers — one in Delaware and another in western Maryland, Moyer said.

“Inmates and officers ran drug operations inside and outside our facilities and cell phones were used to intimidate witnesses and also to move money,” Moyer said.

In 2016, 80 people, including 18 corrections officers and 27 inmates at the Eastern Corrections Institute, were charged as part of an investigation into the smuggling of drugs, cell phones and pornography into the prison.

In 2013, 25 members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang as well as 13 corrections officers were indicted on federal racketeering and drug charges as part of a corruption investigation involving the Baltimore City Detention Center.


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