New Program Wants To Keep Cell Phones Out Of Prisons
04/23/2012
CBS Baltimore

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Getting contraband cell phones out of prisons. That's the goal of a new pilot program launching next month in Maryland. Meghan McCorkell has more on how this could help public safety.

The new pilot program to get cell phones out of the hands of inmates is thanks to a new federal grant, and some say it can't come soon enough.

Marge Shipley says a cell phone behind prison walls killed her son.

“It was the ultimate weapon along with the gun,” Shipley said.

Thirty-eight-year-old Carl Lackl was gunned down in front of his home days before he was set to testify in a 2007 murder trial. That accused murderer, Patrick Byers, called in the hit using a contraband cell phone inside his prison cell.

“It hurts so bad to know it's five years later and my son is gone and he didn't have to die if they had just said something,” Shipley said.

Now the Maryland Department of Public Safety will test out a program to block covert inmate calls by creating a radio frequency umbrella around prisons.

“It doesn't jam signals, it doesn't break federal law and it doesn't do anything to harm legitimate communications,” said Mark Vernarelli, Maryland Department of Public Safety.

The new system would allow calls to authorized users behind prison walls but would block all incoming and outgoing calls to contraband cell phones.

The Division of Correction already has K9s trained to sniff out phones and stepped up security at entrances.

“We've done everything we can do to keep cell phones to a minimum. They still do come in but we aggressively fight to keep them out,” said Vernarelli.

The managed access system could be key in that fight. For Marge Shipley, it could be the end of a five year battle to prevent another family from tragedy.

“Then my son can rest in peace,” Shipley said.

The pilot program will begin at the Metropolitan Transition Center for a 60-day trial. If it works, it could be expanded to other facilities.

The managed access program will allow all phones inside prisons to call 911.