Maryland lawmakers announced plans Thursday for a hearing and called for a blue-ribbon commission in response to the indictments this week of 13 corrections officers who allegedly helped a gang run a drug-trafficking operation behind bars in Baltimore.
In an e-mail to members of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) relayed that his panel would have a hearing May 8 on “corruption at Baltimore City Detention Center.”
“Obviously, it’s an embarrassing situation for everyone,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). “We need to get an accounting of how we got to this point. If you believe everything you read, it’s pretty incredible to imagine.”
Meanwhile, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) said he would like to see a group of administration officials and legislators appointed to take a broader look at issues facing the state’s prison system and come up with proposals in advance of next year’s legislative session.
“We’re not looking for scapegoats. We’re looking to solve the problems,” said Miller, adding that he thinks most lawmakers still have confidence in Gary D. Maynard, the state’s corrections secretary.
The 13 guards were charged this week with helping the Black Guerilla Family gang by smuggling cellphones, prescription pills and other contraband into the Baltimore City Detention Center in their underwear, shoes and hair. Four of the guards at the jail allegedly became pregnant by an the alleged gang leader, Tavon White.
Miller said he would like to see Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) make the issue a priority following his return from an eight-day trade mission to Israel and Jordan that began Saturday.
“I expect as soon as he gets back for this to be issue No. 1,” Miller said.
Among the issues the commission should examine are managing gangs, the vetting of prison guards and their staffing levels and compensation, Miller said.
“In tough budget times, it’s not a priority, and our correctional officers are asked to do more with less,” he said.
Miller noted that the jail was originally run by the city of Baltimore and taken over by the state years ago during the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D). At the time, it was a “hellhole,” Miller said.
“It’s better now than it was, but some of the problems carry on,” Miller said.
He said that many prison systems are having to confront the issue of gangs. “Whenever you’re going to have a prison, you’re going to have gangs,” he said.