State corrections secretary Gary D. Maynard announced Tuesday that he will step down, saying his department had "stabilized" the Baltimore jail in the wake of a gang corruption scandal there.
Maynard, who moved his offices into the Baltimore City Detention Center to oversee reforms, said in an email to staff that he felt ready to leave for a job at a research institute. The scandal involving the Black Guerrilla Family gang has dominated headlines this year, and Maynard held onto his position amid calls for his ouster.
Maynard's departure comes as state lawmakers prepare Wednesday to issue recommendations on corrections reform. The legislative commission was convened after 25 defendants — 13 of them corrections officers — were charged last April in a federal case that involved allegations of rampant drug smuggling and sex between inmates and officers.
In the email to staff, Maynard wrote that he had considered leaving for his next job before the scandal broke but decided to remain at the helm of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
"After the federal indictments at the Detention Center came down, I could not leave," he wrote. "Now that the situation there has stabilized, and new leadership there continues to work with the vast majority of BCDC's dedicated, hardworking and honest employees on the job every day, I can move on."
Maynard arrived in Maryland in 2007 and quickly won praise for shutting down the notorious House of Correction in Jessup, executing a stealthily conceived plot to ship hundreds of inmates to other facilities.
In the following years, the department drove down violence in prisons and cut recidivism rates, according to state data. Gov. Martin O'Malley praised Maynard's record Tuesday, saying in a statement that he had shown "resolute leadership."
"Gary's tireless work over the last six years to make our correctional institutions safer and more secure has paved the way for stronger, safer communities across the State of Maryland," O'Malley said.
But House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke questioned whether the state's troubled correction's system was ready to lose its widely respected leader. He called Maynard's departure "disappointing."
"When all these problems and the corruption indictment surfaced, he was willing to take responsibility," the Anne Arundel County Republican said, adding that he fully supported Maynard staying in the role.
"I'm disappointed that he's leaving without having fixed the problem. One of the reasons that I was optimistic about him was his commitment to seeing this thing through. I feel as though the people of the state of Maryland have been misled, and I hope that we get someone who is committed to the long-term."
The legislative commission was assembled to propose ways to combat corruption and smuggling in Maryland's prisons. Its report is expected to be released Wednesday.
Del. Guy Guzzone, one of the leaders of the commission, said the report will recommend a number of changes to the department but that nothing in the report "points directly" to Maynard or would give him cause to resign.
"Everybody has to look at themselves and know when they're ready to move on to other challenges," the Howard County Democrat said. "If he's in that place, then we wish him well."
Gregg Hershberger, the department's deputy secretary for operations, has been tapped to fill the top job. Hershberger will take over as secretary Thursday, with the final recommendations in hand, although a corrections spokesman said Maynard will stay around through the end of the year to manage the transition.
While many lawmakers praised Maynard's work, Del. John W. E. Cluster Jr., a Baltimore County Republican on the corrections commission, questioned the timing of the secretary's departure.
"I'm sure he's privy to the report," Cluster said. "I just don't know that he wanted to withstand all the changes we want to have made in the department."
But Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr., another commission member who described himself as a personal friend of Maynard's, said the secretary told him Tuesday he had made the decision to leave himself.
"He assured me that it wasn't something where he was forced out," the Baltimore Democrat said. "No one pressured him to resign. This is something he's been wanting to do for several months."
The final months of Maynard's tenure have been overshadowed by the Baltimore jail case.
Maynard and other state officials have faced questions about how much they knew about the alleged corruption under their watch.
But the corrections department has said it had called on the FBI and other agencies to begin investigating back in 2011.
O'Malley was abroad when federal authorities unsealed the April case and wrote to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that the initial announcement made it appear as though the corrections department was "asleep at the switch." In reality, he said, the case represented a major, cooperative step against the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
Maynard resisted calls to resign and sat through hours-long grillings by legislative leaders. He moved his office from the department's Towson headquarters to the jail, laboring to improve security at the Civil War-era jail and weed out corrupt officers.
In an interview shortly after the federal indictments, Maynard pledged to stay in the job "until it's fixed."
"I may put a little bow on it and say, 'This is one of the better running jails in the country.' And maybe in a year or two, walk away from it," he said at the time.
In recent weeks, corrections officials have touted their success so far, citing reduced contraband smuggling and violence at the Baltimore jail even as a new round of charges last month implicated another 14 corrections officers in the corruption scandal.
Maynard started in corrections in 1970 as a prison psychologist in Oklahoma and went on to run prisons there, as well as in South Carolina and Iowa, earning accolades for his hands-on approach and willingness to resolve a crisis.
Last year, he was honored by the top award from the Association of State Correctional Administrators.
O'Malley recruited Maynard shortly after taking office, and their first order of business was to shut down the state's notoriously dangerous House of Correction in Jessup, where a corrections officer had been killed.
Maynard and O'Malley attended a vigil for another guard who was injured, and the governor pledged that his administration would "move just as quickly as we can to create a safer environment."
Ten days later, officials shuttered the House of Correction, sending Maryland's most violent offenders out of state and transferred the remaining inmates to other prisons — moving 842 inmates without any advance notice.
Maynard will join the Criminal Justice Institute, a nonprofit that provides advice to law enforcement agencies.
In the email to staff, Maynard recounted his achievements and praised his employees.
"At the same time, it's very hard to leave this Department," he wrote. "These past seven years have been the most challenging and rewarding in my entire career."
Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Justin Fenton contributed to this story.