Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Op-Eds

Who's in charge? [Commentary]

Back when Robert Ehrlich was governor of Maryland, I was interviewing men newly committed to state prison and suspected of gang affiliations. After years in denial, Maryland was just beginning to realize that gangs were very active behind the walls. Among them was a "new" incarnation of BGF (Black Guerrilla Family) that had taken its name from, but was not otherwise beholden to, the BGF that dated from the 1960s.

I got to know Lt. Santiago Morales, an astute gang investigator at Baltimore City Detention Center, and we shared information. Lt. Morales did not let on to me at the time, but, as was later reported in Baltimore's City Paper, he was on the case against the new BGF, and eventually told by his superiors to stand down. It's never been clear why.

We have since learned that BGF so greatly expanded its power at the detention center that its leader, Tavon White, was essentially the peer of the warden. Some staff were completely corrupted — some women officers were actually impregnated by Mr. White — and intimidated. The story has been told in considerable detail in the pages of this newspaper, with one July article outlining how management at the detention center liked to get together with resident members of BGF in the hope of achieving a more efficient and peaceful way of life for all.

No wonder Lieutenant Morales was told to stand down. Instead of cracking down on BGF, we thought that if we could just get the gang to buy into the management of the joint, we would achieve the Peaceable Kingdom.

I am reminded of a similar effort years ago at the now-dismantled Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. Richard A. Lanham Sr. was then commissioner of corrections, and he used Dennis Wise, a convicted robber and killer, to keep the lid on a very dangerous institution. Mr. Wise was "old" BGF. In exchange for our looking the other way at his rackets inside the walls, he promised relative peace for inmates and staff alike.

One method for disciplining unruly white inmates was to move them into dormitories controlled by black prisoners. There they could count on losing their commissary (items purchased at the prison store) and their peace of mind.

When William W. Sondervan came to Maryland as Commissioner of Correction, he didn't like what he saw. In 1999 he exiled Dennis Wise to Arizona, in exchange for a white supremacist convict whom Arizona was anxious to be rid of. Mr. Wise remains in exile from his home state.

So Maryland has a history of failure at letting inmates have a hand in running the lockup. Nonetheless we tried again.

It gets worse:

As The Sun wrote on April 26, 2013, Lieutenant Morales filed a report on corruption of staff in 2006, when Mr. Ehrlich was still Governor of Maryland, naming a dozen correctional officers suspected of gang ties — five of whom were still working for the corrections department as of last year.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Corrections Secretary Gary Maynard therefore inherited the mess at the Detention Center, and that report. Their belated acknowledgment of what was going on reflects either a monumental, vicious and unforgivable ignorance of what was true at the start of the O'Malley regime or a willingness to look the other way.

As Mr. O'Malley prepares a campaign to lead the country, his stewardship of public safety as governor of Maryland ought to be called into question. Not only did he turn a blind eye for years to the horrors at the Detention Center, he also transformed the Parole Commission into a catch-and-release operation.

With the exception of the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility, recently opened to replace the old Jessup Pre-release Unit, the capital budget under Mr. O'Malley has not been burdened with new prisons. Maryland's solution to prison overcrowding has been to let inmates out on discretionary parole — even violent ones — as fast as others are coming in.

It's a story that remains to be told.

Hal Riedl worked mainly with new inmates and parole violators during twenty years of service in the Maryland Division of Correction. He retired in 2010. His email is halriedl@msn.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Timeline of a BGF murder [Interactive]
    Timeline of a BGF murder [Interactive]
  • Hogan's phosphorus regulations reflect the nation's best science
    Hogan's phosphorus regulations reflect the nation's best science

    There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what Gov. Larry Hogan's Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative really contains, and I would like to clearly state the facts about how we plan to address phosphorus.

  • A code to teach by
    A code to teach by

    Do you remember your first favorite teacher? I do. She made me feel like I could do anything and that I was destined to make a contribution to this world. I mattered in her class. It would not be until almost 20 years later that I would truly understand what made her great.

  • Netanyahu wants war
    Netanyahu wants war

    The grand spectacle of a foreign leader's address to Congress by the invitation of political opponents is disturbing to say the least. But Benjamin Netanyahu's message was even more disturbing. The Israeli prime minister told the American people Tuesday that their president, along with the...

  • A lifetime spent in service
    A lifetime spent in service

    After 30 years in the Senate and a half-century of public service to Maryland and the nation, Barbara Mikulski will retire from elected politics next year. She will leave a legacy as one of the state's most admired politicians and among the most influential women ever to serve in Congress.

  • Legislation needed to protect foster kids' personal funds
    Legislation needed to protect foster kids' personal funds

    Our state foster care agencies are apparently so underfunded that they are taking resources from abused and neglected children. The agencies are taking control over foster children's Social Security benefits (when the children are disabled or have deceased parents) and using the children's...

Comments
Loading