Cumberland Times-News

Local News

April 8, 2011

Dogs sniffing for cell phones inside state prisons

CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners learned about cell phone sniffing dogs and their part in the state’s largest agency from Gary Maynard, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Maynard made a presentation to commissioners at their Thursday work session. He also discussed his agency’s role in the state and in Allegany County.

The department has a $1.2 billion operating budget and supervises 22,000 inmates in 22 prisons and 70,000 individuals on probation and parole, among other duties. The department also plays a part in processing arrestees at some facilities, Maynard said.

The secretary said he’s made a concerted effort to protect employees since taking over in 2007.

“I’m the one who put (protecting) employees in our mission statement. If we take care of our employees, they’ll take care of protecting citizens,” he said.

The department has an impact in Allegany County, Maynard said, and he offered even more resources if the county needs inmate labor. Inmates have worked with Habitat for Humanity of Allegany County building homes while learning carpentry and drywall skills. The inmates have also planted 43,000 trees in the county and nearly a million across the state in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“We’ll clean up the ugliest place in your county,” Maynard said to commissioners. The department though, Maynard said, is mindful of jobs held by average citizens.

 “We don’t want to put anybody out of work,” Maynard said. “If someone says to us, ‘you’re taking my job,’ we’re out of there.”

Maynard said he’s willing to look at any idea for the use of inmate labor that commissioners can come up with. There are some limitations, for instance, inmates cannot normally work on private property, except “in the public interest,” which usually means emergency situations, such as floods.

Other inmate work projects in the area have included maintenence of the Allegany Highland trails, Westernport brush clearing and painting, a Department of Natural Resources roofing project at New Germany State Park and a Dan’s Rock cleanup, Maynard said.

The department employs 1,060 people in area prisons with salaries, wages and benefits of $69 million, and employs another 15 people at the Division of Probation and Parole office.

Cell phones have become a big safety issue in prisons, Maynard said. Cell phones smuggled into prisons can be used to coordinate illegal activities on the outside and attacks on corrections staff and other inmates. The cell phones can be found hidden anywhere, including the bodily orifices of inmates, he said. The department is utilizing the latest technology, including cell phone sniffing dogs, to get cell phones away from inmates. The dogs also offer a bit of a psychological factor, Maynard said.

“When they walk down the hallway, the cell phones fly,” Maynard said.

The state has two large prisons in Allegany County, the North Branch Correctional Institution and neighboring Western Correctional Institution. In late March, there were 1,700 inmates at WCI and 1,449 at NBCI.

Maynard’s office called and initiated plans for the visit, said Bretta Reinhard, Allegany County’s public information officer.

In other action, commissioners named April Alcohol Awareness month and Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention month. Commissioners also an-nounced that citizens can sign up for the county’s new quarterly newsletter by visiting the county’s website.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

 

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