I wasn't planning on testing the state's new cell phone blocking technology unveiled Friday by Gov. Martin O'Malley at the Baltimore City jail. But a blown-out tire on East Madison Street across the street from back of the jail made me do it.
At the news conference, O'Malley insisted the system wasn't "blocking" authorized use outside the antique facility where the inmates ran the joint until recently. It just "manages access."
"Unlike cell phone 'jamming,' Managed Access does not interfere with calls made from outside the prison walls, and thus does not violate federal law. It also does not interfere with emergency calls made from any cell phone."
Inside the jail, I had already heard the ominous recorded message you're supposed to get if you're an unauthorized user inside the detention center.
"The cellular device you are using has been identified as contraband and is illegal to possess under Maryland statute 9-417," it says. "All attempts at communications are being monitored and recorded and may be administratively and in a court of law." (Listen to the recording and O'Malley's remarks from WBAL radio.)
That's the same message I got about 100 feet outside the high prison wall as I tried to call AAA for road service. And then the call disconnected. Repeatedly.
That's the message I got a half-block further south on Graves Street. I had to go a full block away from the jail to East Monument before my Blackberry could get through.
Blocking inmate calls from cell phones they're not supposed to have is a good idea. Blocking cell phone use on busy city streets outside the jail is not so great.
The press release says calls to 911 should work. I didn't try. The system from Tecore of Hanover has been tested for over a month now. It obviously still needs some fine tuning.
By the way, Jeff Toobin, legal affairs correspondent of the New Yorker magazine and a CNN analyst, attended the news conference. He told me he was working on a story about "the saga" of the Baltimore City Detention Center. Look for a long article in the near future.
Toobin asked the governor a question about whether it was appropriate for women correctional officers to be guarding male prisoners. O'Malley handed the question off to corrections secretary Gregg Hershberger to answer, who said it was a common and successful practice across the country.