Cumberland Times-News

May 10, 2013

Lawmaker: Demolish, replace troubled detention center

Lockup has been under scrutiny since indictments that included 15 corrections officers

Brian Witte
Associated Press

— BALTIMORE — The Baltimore City Detention Center, built in the Civil War era, needs to be demolished and replaced, a lawmaker who toured the jail with a small group of Republican legislators said Friday.

The lockup has been under scrutiny since last month when federal officials announced the indictment of 25 people — including 13 female correctional officers — in a conspiracy to bring in drugs, cellphones and other contraband. The ring involved sex between inmates and guards that resulted in four of the officers becoming pregnant, one of them twice, by Tavon White, leader of a gang called the Black Guerilla Family.

Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, and other lawmakers described it as a long-outdated facility with a variety of problems that make it harder to manage the busy traffic of detainees, their visiting family members and attorneys. They cited cell doors that don’t open because the ground has shifted. They also noted there is too much close contact between correctional officers and detainees. They said full body scans are needed, not just metal detectors, to prevent contraband from entering the facility.

“It would cost about $300 million,” Kipke said, noting the estimated cost of building a new facility. “It’s in the long-term plan for corrections. They’ve been asking the governor to fund that, and we think it’s essential. You can’t have cells, for example, where the doors have to be opened by a guard. You have to have it computerized so that there’s less contact between guards and prisoners.”

Participants in Friday’s tour included Delegates John Cluster, R-Baltimore County; Michael Hough, R-Frederick; Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil; and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil. They met with Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard, who has moved his office to the detention center to conduct a thorough investigation.

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced a variety of reforms this week, including the installation of new technology that blocks inmates’ ability to use contraband cellphones from correctional institutions. The governor also said he will urge lawmakers to pass a measure to make smuggling a cellphone into a correctional institute a felony punishable by additional jail time.