Locksmiths have various skills, and often are asked to open a locked door using picks. Asking inmates at a jail to break a new lock? That’s a first, even for us as a wholesale distributor of security products.

An excerpt from 11 Alive, based in Atlanta, GA

ATLANTA — On the fifth floor of the Fulton County jail, an intriguing experiment is underway.

“We want to provide ample evidence that this solution will work,” said Chief Jailer Mark Adger.

He brought in 18 inmates with a history of popping cell locks to see if they could defeat a new high-tech design.

“It doesn’t do us any good to put in these new locks if they don’t test it to make sure they’re inmate-proof,” Col. Adger said.

He even offered a reward of $20 in commissary bucks to anyone who could break out of their cells.

“That’s enough to get some honey buns and hygiene items free of charge,” he added. “No one’s getting it, and I didn’t intend that they were gonna get it anyway.”

The new locks are designed for maximum security, and they come with indicator lights.

Atlanta Inmate Cell Locks

“The one thing they can’t defeat is the light,” said Sgt. Scott Farron, lock inspection supervisor. “This system tells the tower it’s not only locked, it’s secure.”

Sgt. Farron said there’s no comparison between the new locks and the old ones installed more than 20 years ago when the jail was built.

A recent inspection of the jail’s 1310 cell locks showed 140 of them had been jammed by inmates using socks, toilet paper, even spoons.

“Their purpose is to be able to move about as they see fit and go and do harm to other inmates or do harm to other staff,” Col. Adger said.

Contraband cell phones pose another big security threat in the jail.

Col. Adger said his staff is preparing to install six permanent-mount cell phone detectors to keep them out.

“An inmate with a cell phone can communicate with parties without our knowledge,” he said. “They can arrange escape attempts. They can arrange to intimidate witnesses. They can arrange to do harm to other people on the outside.”

On the inside, the new locks seem to be working.

“You can’t pop out these doors,” said inmate Demarcus Royalston.

“Have you tried?” asked 11Alive’s Jennifer Leslie.

“No. I don’t pop out,” he responded.

“We think they’ve tried,” said Col. Adger. “It’s hard to tell because the lock itself is so sturdy. The inmates have requested to be re-housed in another unit. They don’t like being in these cells.”

Money for the lock experiment came from the inmate welfare fund that includes commissary profits and jail phone fees.

As early as September, jail officials will as Fulton County Commissioners to spend tax dollars, several million, to replace every cell lock in the jail.