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Recess! Florida prison cells opened randomly thanks to computer ‘glitch’

On June 13 at 7:04 p.m., something unusual happened at the maximum security wing of Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami, Florida. All the cell doors were mysteriously unlocked at once, and three inmates took the opportunity to chase after 27-year-old Kenneth Williams with a homemade prison knife. Williams narrowly escaped the attack by jumping over second-floor balcony railing, suffering a broken ankle and fractured vertebrae in the fall.

In a new surveillance video obtained by the Miami Herald, two of the attacking inmates were seen sneaking out of their cells as soon as the doors opened, as if they were anticipating the release. The incident was the second of its kind in a month, causing officials to question whether the computerized system had been purposely compromised.

The security system in place was part of a $1.4 million upgrade installed at the prison by Black Creek Integrated Systems. This particular control panel features a group-release touchscreen button that allow guards to open cell doors simultaneously to quickly perform a head count. However, such practice is not generally used in the maximum security wing since inmates are not allowed to interact with each other in common areas.

Black-Creek-Security Display-System“The software in the computer has only one kind of thing, operator error, and we don’t know what triggers that, so part of the inquiry is to find out what the software is saying,” Miami-Dade Corrections Director Tim Ryan told Wired.

In the first incident that took place on May 20, the cell doors also mysteriously opened without authorized consent. No inmate attack took place at the time, causing officials to believe the former incident may have been used as a test to see how long guards took to react to the “glitch.” The department is currently investigating whether any officer had a role in the attack.

It is believed that the attacking inmates and Williams may have had a violent history. Before prison, Williams and his twin brother led a drug gang that allegedly ordered a 2008 hit on a rival gang member. The shooting left a 10-month-old baby dead, and two teenage gunmen were convicted for the murder. Williams and his brother were arrested after being accused of threatening the prosecutor’s key witness.

While it is going to take some time for officials to get to the bottom of the case, we can learn a few things from the incident. If a computer system at a maximum security prison could be compromised, perhaps we’re not quite ready for a world that only need touchscreen buttons and an Internet connection to unlock the doors to our homes. 

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