In the wake of this year’s corruption scandal at a Baltimore jail, a Maryland legislative commission has drafted 18 recommendations, including endorsement of a 10-year, $533 million plan to replace the sprawling, antiquated complex where guards were indicted for aiding a dangerous gang.
The commission, comprised of a dozen delegates and senators, is scheduled to meet for the final time on Wednesday before forwarding its recommendations to the full General Assembly for consideration in January.
Other proposals include tougher penalties for cell phone smuggling, subjecting all new correctional officers to polygraph tests and relocating some high-risk offenders from the Baltimore jail to longer-term state correctional facilities.
A draft of the commission’s report and recommendations was obtained by The Washington Post on Tuesday. Several of the recommendations include broader changes to the state prison system while others more narrowly focus on the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center.
The commission was set up following the federal indictments this spring of 13 corrections officers and leaders of the Black Guerrilla Family gang at the detention center in Baltimore. Federal grand jury indictments unsealed last month charged another 14 current and former guards with racketeering and drug- and money-laundering conspiracies.
A draft of the commission’s report notes that the primary Baltimore jail was built in 1859. While it has undergone 11 renovations since then, it remains sorely lacking in several respects.
Those include plumbing failures, broken elevators, bug and rodent infestations and mold. Moreover, the design of the facility creates poor lines of sight for officers, which make assaults more likely, the report says. And other features, such as cells with bars, makes its easier to smuggle contraband within the jail.
“The best resolution to these issues is the demolition and replacement of the old, inadequate structures within the correctional complex,” the report says.
A draft recommendation supports a plan developed by the corrections department to replace the complex in phases over the course of a decade.
The report also suggests elevating the crime of smuggling a cell phone into a correctional facility from a misdemeanor to a felony, which would bring stiffer penalties.
“Internally, cell phones allow inmates to plan prison assaults, escapes and riots,” the report says. “Cell phones also allow inmates to reach outside of facility walls to harass and intimidate witnesses and victims as well as coordinate other criminal activity, such as drug deals, gang activity and homicides.”
The report also supports expanding the use of cell phone-blocking technology to more Maryland correctional facilities.
The commission recommends increases in staffing as well as subjecting all new hires at Maryland correctional facilities to polygraph testing in an effort to avoid hiring officers with gang affiliations.
The reports says the corrections department should consider putting full-body scanners at each correctional facility and develop a uniform screening policy for all those entering state-run facilities.
The jail in Baltimore is the busiest in the state and the only local jail in Maryland run by the state. The draft reports recommends conducting assessments with the goal of placing high-risk detainees at other state-run facilities “to avoid the issues that arise from housing detainees for long periods of time in a detention facility.”