Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans Thursday to immediately shut a Civil War-era facility at the scandal-plagued Baltimore City Detention Center, rebuking former Gov. Martin O’Malley for allowing inhumane conditions to fester there.
Hogan called the fortress-like Men’s Detention Center, which houses 750 male pretrial inmates, a “black eye” and an “embarrassment” for the state of Maryland.
Inmates now at the facility will be assigned to other detention centers in the Baltimore complex or nearby, officials said. The central booking facility at the complex, the women’s jail and other pretrial buildings will remain in use.
Officials would not provide any specifics about where or how soon prisoners will be transferred, citing security concerns. Hogan said he instructed Stephen T. Moyer, secretary of public safety and correctional services, to begin the closure “as expeditiously as possible.”
Closing the jail will save the state between $10 million and $15 million annually, Moyer said, and will take place “without compromising detainees’ access to legal protections.” His agency is setting up a telephone hotline to help family members find out where inmates have been moved. Employees of the jail will be transferred to other facilities.
“The Baltimore City Detention Center is a disgrace, and its conditions are horrendous,” Hogan said. “It makes no sense to keep this deplorable facility open. . . . The practice of continuously dumping hard-earned taxpayer money into this disastrous facility will not continue under my watch.”
Baltimore City Council member Carl Stokes, who represents the area where the jail is located, said he was pleased that the governor was taking what he considered to be much-needed action. Baltimore’s jail system came under state control in 1991 and is the only local jail system in the nation run by a state corrections department.
“I think it’s a good decision,” Stokes said. “Some might say wait. But we shouldn’t be operating [this jail]. . . . This facility is very, very substandard.”
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said she has “long had concerns about the condition” of the facility and looked forward to hearing more details about the governor’s plan.
The jail has an extensive history of gang activity and corruption. In 2013, federal prosecutors charged dozens of people, including corrections officers, with participating in a scheme that allowed the Black Guerrilla Family gang to operate a drug-trafficking and money-laundering operation from within the facility. The case led to 40 indictments and five convictions as of February, with inmates, guards and law-enforcement officers describing an environment in which criminals ran the show.
In announcing the closure, Hogan took swipes at past state leaders for not acting to address the problems that have plagued the jail. “Ignoring it was irresponsible and one of the biggest failures of leadership in the history of Maryland,” he said.
But several Democratic state lawmakers and union officials criticized the first-term governor for not seeking their input before making his decision. And advocates said closing the men’s facility, while a welcome first step, will not fix problems at other parts of the complex.
“While we applaud the move toward a safer and more secure facility, we are troubled by the process,” Glen Middleton Sr., executive director of AFSCME Chapter 67, which represents corrections workers. “Governor Hogan once again failed to reach out to the relevant stakeholders.”
David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, expressed relief “that Baltimore detainees will no longer be forced to live in the Men’s Detention Center, a building that should have been condemned decades ago.”
“This critical step, though, will have no impact on the dangerous physical conditions and shockingly deficient medical and mental-health care in the jail facilities that will remain open,” Fathi said.
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), who chairs the Maryland House Appropriations Committee, said she received no advance notice of the decision and “will be holding hearings” on the issue.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), who was in Baltimore to pick up McIntosh’s endorsement in his race for U.S. Senate, said it was “unfortunate” that Hogan didn’t reached out to McIntosh and other city leaders in advance.
“A governor who is interested in leading the whole state should be reaching out to members of the city who are affected,” Van Hollen said.
A similar critique was levied by the co-chairs of a commission that studied the jail in 2013 and made sweeping recommendations, including knocking down the jail and rebuilding it.
“Our bipartisan commission . . . would have been able to provide input into this process,” Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. (D-Anne Arundel) and Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) said in a joint statement. “It is unfortunate and disappointing that the Governor is making large-scale decisions behind closed doors and without input of others.”
City Council member Brandon Scott praised Hogan for acknowledging the “decades of neglect by many governors” but added that the closure is not something to be applauded.
“Closing is one thing,” Scott said. “More important is what is going to happen to the inmates, the workers and the facility.”
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.