Cyberattack on Bernalillo County Impacts Jail Security System and Inmates’ Constitutional Rights
The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center was partially locked down after a countywide ransomware attack knocked out the jail’s internet, most of its data systems and all of its security cameras last week. The attack also created obstacles preventing detainees from contacting their lawyers, which is a constitutional right. Source New Mexico’s Austin Fisher investigates the cyberattack and health issues at the prison. This is the first in a two-part series about what happens at the detention center.
AUSTIN FISHERMAN: Several data systems inside the prison were affected by the cyberattack. The first that caught my attention was the prison’s ability to participate in video conferencing proceedings with the justice system. What this means is normally in what we consider “normal” during the pandemic, prior to the cyberattack these hearings would be conducted over Zoom and inmates and their lawyers could speak privately in a breakout room or on a telephone separate line. This is no longer the case. Instead, last Friday inmates had to call in to their arraignment hearings by dialing the prison payphone.
Some of the other systems that have been affected include the prison security camera system, but also the basic incident reporting system inside the prison. So it’s things like violence, inmate fights, incidents of rape, other incidents that are normally tracked digitally, these incidents are now recorded on paper forms, according to the county’s own attorneys. This raises a whole bunch of questions about whether we’re getting the full picture of everything going on inside the prison as the cyberattack still affects those systems. This has a very profound impact on the ability of detainees to have the assistance of a lawyer, the assistance of a lawyer and their ability to attend court hearings.
It’s not something as trivial as the county can’t process marriage licenses, although it’s not trivial. These impacts are not limited to the day-to-day operations of a county, it could have serious implications for people’s future. If they are unable to make an informed decision in their hearings, they could be found guilty of a charge of which they may be innocent or which does not exercise all of their constitutional rights as a defendant.
KUNM: And what have the courts done to try to mitigate those impacts?
SINNER: After the Public Defender’s Office and the jail contacted the Bernalillo County Court System, the State Courts Administrative Office actually announced new court procedures for criminal cases so that hearings could continue. while the county attempts to get its network back up and running. . So the Second Judicial District Court, which deals with serious charges against people inside the county jail, has made space available at its juvenile court in Albuquerque. Thus, police departments transport these defendants from prison to juvenile court and their defendants can communicate privately with their lawyers and appear in court using laptop computers in a courtroom.
KUNM: But it doesn’t seem to be sustainable.
SINNER: Basically, it is extremely costly for these police services to provide this transportation. Of course, this is a very common thing because part of the criminal justice system carries defendants. But it is an extra step that needs to be taken due to the network outage. Nor is it sustainable in terms of simply being able to get timely legal assistance. Say you’re in a jail cell, you have a serious question to ask your lawyer about your case. Well, you’re going to have to go through extra steps to be taken to another location on top of the danger of interacting with other people during the pandemic. This only further complicates the basic functions of the justice system.
KUNM: So what does the county say about the cyber attack on the jail?
SINNER: So far the only response I have from Bernalillo County is asking for more time to respond. So county manager Julie Morgas Baca told me that officials needed more time to respond because they had just learned of the ransomware attack on the county. I still have not received an answer to a long list of very specific questions that I sent to the county eight days ago. The county executive told me “of course we have concerns too, and we want our staff and we want the inmates to be safe and in a secure facility.” This is all I have of Bernalillo County so far.
UPDATE: Bernalillo County released an update on the ransomware attack Friday evening. Officials said the Metropolitan Detention Center was receiving and releasing detainees as usual. The tablets are fully operational for video calls. Those in Block F can only make collect calls. Inmates receive free calls to compensate for the inconvenience.
They also said the MDC was not completely locked down, at the moment, except in areas where COVID quarantines impose limited movement.