Improving Jail Security and Inmate Safety
The Willo Wedge Solution
El Paso County lies in east central Colorado and encompasses more than 2,158 square miles – slightly more than twice the area of the state of Rhode Island. With a population of over 730,000, El Paso County is the most populous county in Colorado, surpassing the City and County of Denver. As part of the duty of overseeing the public safety of all the residents, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is also in charge of the operations of the local jail.
Recently, the El Paso County Jail faced significant challenges in maintaining resident security and preventing unauthorized access to cells, leading to inmate-on-inmate attacks and staff safety concerns. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, with inmates deliberately tampering with locks to leave their cells and spread the virus. To address these critical security breaches, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office utilized $13 million in CARES Act funding to implement comprehensive safety upgrades, including the adoption of the Willo Wedge ™, a state-of-the-art door locking system manufactured by Willo Products.
The El Paso County Jail faced significant challenges in maintaining security due to the ease with which inmates could tamper with the existing door locks. It was reported that dozens of inmates inside the jail were “popping” their door locks and getting out of their cells.
“Between June of 2019 and June 2020, there were a total of 189 reports of inmates tampering and ‘popping’ door locks on their cells. 13 of those reports involved inmates who ended up assaulting another inmate.”
This compromised the safety of both inmates and staff members. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges as inmates deliberately tampered with locks to leave their cells, infect others, further highlighting the urgent need for enhanced security measures.
To overcome the security challenges, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office decided to invest in the Willo Wedge, a state-of-the-art door locking system. Manufactured by Willo Products in Decatur, Alabama, the Willo Wedge offered superior security features and was designed to withstand tampering attempts. By replacing the old locks with the Willo Wedge, the jail aimed to prevent unauthorized access, enhance inmate safety, and minimize the risk of violent altercations.
The implementation of the security upgrades involved a comprehensive approach. The primary focus was on replacing 392 door locks with the Willo Wedge system. Additionally, outdated wood-style jail doors were replaced with reinforced steel doors, which featured added safety measures. The jailhouse camera system was also upgraded to eliminate blind spots and ensure complete surveillance coverage.
“[The inmates] would preload some paper in the locking mechanism and then they would come with a spoon or cardboard and slip it through here and slide it up and defeat the lock.”
“This lock hasn’t been defeated as of yet. We’re confident it will not be defeated.”
Results and Benefits
The implementation of the Willo Wedge system and other security upgrades yielded significant results and benefits. The new door locks proved to be highly secure and tamper-resistant, reducing the instances of unauthorized inmate access and violent altercations. The reinforced steel doors and enhanced surveillance system provided a safer environment, enabling prompt identification and response to incidents. The measures taken to address COVID-19 concerns, minimized physical contact, reduced virus transmission risks, and improved overall efficiency in resident management.
The adoption of the Willo Wedge door locking system and the comprehensive security upgrades at the El Paso County Jail successfully addressed the challenges faced in maintaining inmate security and staff safety. By investing in advanced technology and robust infrastructure, the jail created a secure environment, reduced the risk profile of the jail, and contributed to improved staff morale. The implementation of these upgrades underscored the commitment of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to prioritize safety and create a more efficient and effective correctional facility.