Maryland Pilot Project Leads to New Tech to Stop Contraband Cellphones in Corrections


Following a successful pilot project, Maryland corrections officials will be using a new type of technology designed to stamp out the use of contraband cellphones in prison. Managed Access technology, will block all illegal and unauthorized cell calls within the correctional facility’s walls.

The pilot was launched last year through the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and tested at nearby Metropolitan Transition Center yielding favorable results—nearly eliminating the cell phone problems at that facility. As a result, DPSCS sought to bring the technology to the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) which will be the next location for use.

The system is seen as a critical tool that will keep criminals from carrying out illegal activity behind bars. A product of Tecore, a Maryland-based company, Managed Access automatically differentiates between authorized and unauthorized cellular devices within a target area. Callers hear a recorded message alerting them that their call cannot be completed due to the unauthorized cellular device they are attempting to use. The system works without staff involvement or “jamming” of wireless signals. Cellphone jamming in prison systems can run into federal laws which prohibit such activities.

CivSource previously reported on a similar technology available from Berkeley Varitronics Systems. That technology – SentryHound is a fixed system containing highly sensitive sensors detecting any cell phones, on or off, as people walk through. A second offering from Berkeley – Mastiff – is a turnkey solution designed for the sole purpose of rapid body scans to detect concealed cell phones. As soon as an inmate sits down in the Mastiff – a chair style scanner – their entire body, inside and out, is quickly scanned for any cell phone devices.

Corrections systems are resorting to the detection technology as the use of cellphones spreads. Previously, inmates had to use landline phones within the prison itself allowing officials to monitor communications. As cellphones came into popular use, contraband phones have made it inside prisons allowing for undetected communications, and potentially the extension of criminal activity even after someone is put in prison.

DPSCS has out front on contraband cell phones, implementing several approaches to increasing cell phone interdiction. These include investing $1.1 million in facility entrance technology; using cell phone sniffing dogs trained by its own K9 unit; fighting for legislation to increase penalties for those caught smuggling cell phones into prison; and forming partnerships with state’s attorneys to prosecute offenders caught with cell phones.

“For the last seven years, our administration has worked to put Maryland on the front lines of the national fight against contraband cell phones, “said Governor O’Malley. “This technology arms our dedicated correctional staff with additional tools they need to crack down on cell phones in our facilities, protect integrity and ensure the safety and security of our correctional system.”