LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE)- A statewide prison lockdown turns up a major security threat and it’s nothing like this corrections department has ever seen. That threat turned out to be a cell phone but not just any cell phone. One disguised as a watch. It has the state Department of Corrections caught up in a game of technological tag.
It may look like a regular watch, but this watch has all the features of a phone.
“It’s a very, very real threat,” says New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Gregg Marcantel.
Marcantel says the watch phone turned up in a routine, statewide lockdown. While he says they often find contraband, everything from tattooing equipment and drugs to materials to make weapons, Marcantel says the find was a first.
The department says they found it on Jeffrey Smith, an inmate serving time for aggravated battery in child abuse. They say they don’t know how he got it into the prison but, he had only been a resident for eight days.
“There’s a pretty good assumption that he came in with a watch and it looked like a standard, allowable watch,” says Marcantel.
Still, it’s eight days Marcantel says this inmate could have been on the phone or Internet.
Last year, lawmakers made it a crime to have cell phones in prisons that goes for inmates, visitors and staff.
Marcantel says, for good reason.
“You can pick up threats to witnesses, you can pick up threats to victims or in the very worst scenarios, we’ve seen it, over the last couple of years where there’s been telephonic threats relayed out and correctional officers have been killed as a result of planned homicides.”
Last year, the department found 13 cell phones. Marcantel says, it started with smaller phones that are easier to hide in body cavities now, this.
“This is a good example of the technological game of chicken we play with offender populations,” says Marcantel.
That is, as criminals adapt to corrections department’s advances the corrections department must respond. They say, they are. Within the last year or so, the department came up with a portable device to detect cell phones.
“With the portability of these monitoring devices, we can set up surprise moments to where no one gets a stable understanding where if I go in that door, I’ve got to pass this thing that’s going to find my cell phone. You never know where it’s going to show up,” Marcantel says.
Marcantel says the watch phone was dead when they found it. He says they’re not sure if it was working when Smith came in and he just didn’t have a charger for it or if it was dead when Smith got there.
Marcantel also used Google glasses as an example of technology they might use in the future to keep a closer eye on criminals. Then again, he says they’ll also have to be careful inmates don’t get their hands on them.