There are a number of lessons to be learned from the infestation of gang members in the Baltimore City Detention Center, not the least should be that the state has failed miserably in cracking down on cellphone smuggling by inmates.
The Black Guerilla Family gang apparently was operating unchecked in the city jail and cellphones were the main tool in use. According to the indictment, the Black Guerilla Family gang essentially took over the institution. Guards smuggled in cellphones and drugs and had sex with gang members.
While legislation to strengthen the state’s cellphone laws probably would not have single-handedly stopped the problem, it may have been a big part of the solution.
Since 2010, legislation to make cellphone possession by inmates a felony offense has been bottled up in the House Ways and Means Committee, according to the Washington Post. Gary Maynard, the state’s corrections secretary, first requested the new law four years ago, but the committee has failed to budge every legislative session since.
The Post pointed out that under the legislation, inmates caught with a cellphone for a second time would have faced felony charges that could result in up to five additional years being tacked onto their sentences. Under current law, cellphone possession is a misdemeanor, regardless of how many times inmates are caught, and the punishment does not automatically lengthen their incarceration. The legislation also would have increased penalties for guards, visitors or anyone else who delivers or attempts to deliver a cellphone to an inmate.
Cellphone use in prisons is not unique to Maryland. States throughout the nation are trying a variety of ways to stop the use of phones — and most of them are implementing tougher criminal penalties. The Post reports that Mississippi is cracking down this year using a contraband law that carries felony sentences of up to 15 years in prison. And Idaho passed a law last year that makes the crime a felony with a potential five-year sentence.
Maynard and a host of other law enforcement officials — including Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, the Maryland Sheriffs Association and the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention — strongly support a tougher law against the phones. It’s long past time for the Ways and Means Committee to drop its obstructionist antics.