Maryland corrections officials are working toward installing cellphone-call-blocking technology at the Baltimore City Detention Center following a scandal in which a violent prison gang reigned over the state-run jail.
It could be up to a year before the technology is deployed, department spokesman Rick Binetti said.
The Black Guerrilla Family gang is accused of working with 13 corrections officers to launder money and smuggle drugs and cellphones into the jail, according to a federal indictment. Four guards had children with one incarcerated gang member, prosecutors have alleged.
Lawmakers on a special panel to investigate the state’s correctional facilities met for the first time Thursday, listening to testimony from Gary D. Maynard, the state corrections secretary, and David B. Juppe, Department of Legislative Services operating budget manager. The group is scheduled to visit the detention center July 25.
Maynard told the panel that thousands of calls have been blocked over the past three months at the Metropolitan Transition Center, a medium-level security facility in Baltimore, where the system has been in full use since April. Because the technology has been successful there, Gov. Martin O’Malley directed the department to deploy the technology at BCDC, Binetti said.
Del. John W.E. Cluster Jr. (R-Baltimore County) saw the Metropolitan Transition Center’s high rate of blocked call as cause for alarm, suggesting there might be problems with phone smuggling at that facility as well.
Cellphones can help detainees plot assaults and escapes, law enforcement officials say, and allow inmates to coordinate criminal activity outside the facility. State lawmakers have repeatedly killed legislation to crack down on cellphone smuggling into detention facilities, but O’Malley (D) plans to push it again in the next legislative session.
More than 1,300 cellphones were found across the correctional system in fiscal year 2012, Maynard said, but increased investigations have led to 600 cases, with more than 350 people found guilty.
The detention center has also recently updated its security cameras after a review found some cameras not working, Binetti said. The cameras were updated to allow 45 days of high-definition recording.
The hearing focused on an overview of the corrections department and a policy analysis of Maryland’s criminal justice system, often comparing Baltimore City’s statistics with the rest of the state’s. The indictments out of BCDC were rarely mentioned.
Legislators questioned Maynard and Juppe after their presentations on a range of topics, including corrections officers’ recruitment, retention, training and salaries, security, sentencing trends, detainment length and audits of the facility.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore) suggested increasing the officers’ “relatively modest” starting salaries of $36,000, which he said would help attract and keep qualified guards.
In response, Maynard said that “99.9 percent of our employees do an outstanding job at the salary they have.”