The practice took a hit in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after a federal judge in Texas condemned it in a case that led to an overhaul of the state's prison system. Still, unofficial agreements between corrections officers and powerful inmates continue, Gaston said.
Wahid Shakur, now 20, who arrived at the Baltimore detention center in 2008 at age 16 on armed robbery and carjacking charges, said he wasn't surprised by the allegations in the indictment.
He said it's "way more crazy over at city jail than it is in prison," where he was sent after his 2009 conviction. Jail inmates act unpredictably because they often don't know if they will be released or sentenced to long prison terms, he said.
"It's always been a straight jungle over there," he said of the detention center. "When you over at city jail, it's a whole different type of mindset."
But responsibility rests with corrections officers, or COs, said Shakur, who now talks to middle and high school students about avoiding a life of crime for an organization called Friend of a Friend.
"Anything that's happening, the COs got to allow it to happen," he said. "If you got the CO on your side, that's what gives you power. ... If you getting dope in the jail, you're only getting dope in the jail because the COs allow it. If you got a knife in the jail, the CO allowed it. You only get in what they allow."