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One-party rule in Maryland exacerbates jail scandal

Justice SystemU.S. House Committee on the JudiciaryMichael E. BuschMartin O'Malley

The evil that comes from a one-party state could not be more glaring than in the wake of the federal indictments over the corruption in the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has attempted to turn the astonishing degree of inept management and outright corruption at Baltimore's jail into another one of his imaginary criminal justice success stories — stories that he has been spinning since he burst onto the political scene as Baltimore's mayor by promising "zero tolerance" for crime.

Mr. O'Malley's zero-tolerance regime racked up an unprecedented numbers of arrests, a third of which prosecutors dropped immediately. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the city, which it had to settle. Mr. O'Malley went through four police commissioners, three of whom were ineffective or incompetent, the fourth quitting after tiring of Mr. O'Malley's interference in policing strategies. With each new appointment, the police department lost another layer of senior leadership that the new guy ousted, denuding it of veteran experience from which it still has not fully recovered. But no fingers pointed at Mr. O'Malley.

Mayor O'Malley promised that an Early Disposition Court would cut caseloads in half and free prosecutors to more vigorously pursue violent crime, having no idea what he was talking about. A credulous Democratic General Assembly paid millions for the program, which quickly failed. Mr. O'Malley simply used statistics from other programs to claim success, and no one challenged him.

When Baltimore's murder rate began to drop significantly, Mr. O'Malley took the bows, even though his police department had become the kindergarten cops. The murder drop actually followed the appointment of Rod Rosenstein as U.S. attorney for Maryland, who actively intervened in Baltimore and sent gun-toters and gang members to federal prison.

In the past, perhaps Mr. O'Malley could have been viewed as a brash young man sincerely attempting to make a difference. But the real O'Malley, the purely ambitious O'Malley, comes into sharp relief now. This jail scandal in Baltimore is so big, so inexplicable, that surely as a leader he has to take responsibility. Instead, he tells us to our faces that the federal indictments reflect favorably on him and the man who runs his prisons, Gary Maynard.

And he's getting away with it again. The House of Delegates was poised to begin hearings on the scandal May 8, but after Mr. O'Malley sent Mr. Maynard in for a private meeting with legislative leaders last week, the hearings were canceled. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Joseph Vallario, pronounced himself "satisfied" that Mr. Maynard is "taking steps to address the immediate problems" at the city jail.

As one lawmaker put it, pointing a finger directly at House Speaker Michael Busch, "we [democratic leadership] pretty much do only what O'Malley wants, or what helps or protects him." This lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, told me, "We are essentially prevented from performing as a separate power, a legislative body, for the sole purpose of protecting the image of the governor." It should be fascinating to see what comes of joint House-Senate hearings planned for June.

Too often, public tragedies or private personal failings by public officials are exploited by opposing political parties for political advantage. But this scandal over the integrity and management of our correctional system cries out for a full and honest explanation to the public. Mr. Maynard was warned years ago about these problems, yet apparently he allowed them to persist, resulting in an inmate fathering children with multiple correctional officers and ruling a criminal enterprise within and without the jail. Rather than address his staff's failures, Mr. O'Malley pats himself on the back for cooperating with federal investigators.

Would-be President O'Malley touts his legislative and administrative record to a national audience at every opportunity. This jail scandal exposes the reality of our one-party state: that Mr. O'Malley lacks meaningful opposition to what he chooses to make his agenda. From lack of resistance comes growing power, and with that power the arrogance to tell Marylanders that the stink of an onion is in fact the fragrance of a rose.

Page Croyder spent two decades with the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office before retiring in 2008. She blogs about local criminal justice issues at http://pagecroyder.blogspot.com/.

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