Blocking Calls: New System Targets Cell Phones Inside Jail Walls
02/07/2014
WJZ-TV - Online BALTIMORE (WJZ)

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The Baltimore City Detention Center has been the center of scandal–with gangs accused of running the place and using cell phones to carry out their crimes.

Friday, corrections officials demonstrated new technology that they claim shuts that down.

Mike Hellgren was inside the facility and shows you how it works.

This has been a problem for years. The new system only targets cell phones inside jail walls.

This is a rare look inside the walls of what was once, perhaps, the most troubled correctional facility in the state. The Baltimore Detention Center was a playground for powerful and dangerous gang leaders who would use cell phones to run drug operations and silence witnesses.

Authorities say they'd even have sex with and impregnate correctional officers.

“I think what you'll see today will amaze you,” said Gregg Hershberger, Maryland's new secretary of public safety and correctional services.

Now, state leaders are touting miles of new cables running through the walls attached to high-tech system that silences unwanted phones.

It works like this: Calls are instantly analyzed and any unauthorized phone is simply blocked.

In the room where people come to visit maximum security inmates, a box on the ceiling is now monitoring for any illicit calls.

Emergency 911 calls will still go through, and it gets around federal laws that prohibit the blocking of all cell phones.

“If we were allowed to block cell phones like they do in Broadway shows, this would have been easy and we could have done this long ago,” Governor O'Malley said.

The governor faces national criticism and outrage from a mother whose son was killed in a hit ordered from an inmate on a phone he should never have had.

“I can't understand–what is so hard about shutting off those phones?” said Marge Shipley, victim's mother.

Jay Salkini's company, Tecore, developed the new system.

Hellgren: “Is it 100 percent effective or are there times when something can slip through?

Salkini: “Well, no technology is 100 percent. We have guaranteed to the state that we will provide 98 percent coverage.”

It's technology that state leaders say will ultimately save lives.

There are plans to expand that technology to other facilities across Maryland.