By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer
Curry County inmates made unmonitored phone calls with free weekend minutes courtesy of the automated phone system of the public defender’s office.
Sheriff Matt Murray said the inmates called the public defender’s office during the weekend to take advantage of a flaw in the office’s automated answering service that gives them access to an open telephone line.
“They’ll get an automated recording, punch in a bunch of numbers and somehow they get an outside line,” he said.
Murray said the technique doesn’t work all the time, resulting in thousands of calls to the public defender’s office.
Murray said the line to the public defender’s office is not monitored because of attorney-client privilege.
He said it’s unknown how the inmates knew about the flaw or which inmates made the calls.
Detention Center Warden Leslie Johnson said inmates have to make collect calls from the detention center. But calls to the public defender’s office are free, she said.
Curry County Adult Detention Center officials blocked the phone number for the public defender’s office Monday when they learned of the problem.
Deputy Chief Warden Audrey Barriga said during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, the public defender’s office received more than 9,000 phone calls over the weekend.
Johnson said inmates are given a limited amount of phone time, but because there aren’t enough detention officers, most calls were unsupervised.
It was the massive number of calls in one day to the public defender’s office that tipped off sheriff investigators, Murray said.
Barriga said the detention center has asked its phone service provider to install a different system.
Until then, phone service to the public defenders office will be unavailable to inmates.
Murray said inmates will still have access to the public defender’s office by mail.
Johnson said the detention center is trying to identify which inmates made the calls and exactly how they accessed the outside phone lines.
“They came up with something that the system probably had never been tested for,” she said. “In their own creative way, they figured something out.”