Mismanagement and failed leadership led to the debacle at Baltimore's jail

The first words of Elvis Presley's classic hit, "Jailhouse Rock," were: "The warden threw a party at the county jail." In Maryland, the entire prison system is having a party thrown by gangs and official mismanagement ("Assembly leaders to be briefed on jail problems," May 4).

The recent scandal that exploded at the Baltimore City detention center is just the tip of the iceberg. The media and the press are being misled into believing this problem is isolated and of recent vintage. The real problem is much larger, it is system-wide and it has been around for a long time. Gang influence and power are everywhere in the system.

A similar gang scandal occurred in 2006. That incident should have alerted the governor and Department of Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard to pay attention. Gang members have long manipulated correctional officers.

Since 2010, 89 officers across the state, including five at the Baltimore facility, have been terminated or forced to resign. Recently, a $40,000 settlement awarded to an inmate who was assaulted on numerous occasions painted a picture of failed prison management. That settlement will establish a costly precedent.

Speaking in reference to the Maryland scandal, Bill Bratton, a former top police official in New York and Los Angeles who now heads a law-enforcement consulting firm, called the situation at the jail "a management failure of monumental proportions."

There have been a record number of murders in prison this year. Families have complained that their pleas and warnings have been ignored by management. It is clear the problem goes beyond corruption among a handful of prison guards and extends into the governor's responsibility for the management and leadership of the department.

The governor picked Secretary Maynard to manage the system. Both he and Mr. Maynard have failed. Mr. Maynard needs to be fired because he is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The danger to public safety extends beyond the prison walls. Carl Lackl, a witness in a murder case, was himself murdered by assassins ordered to act by a phone call from inside the prison.

Many witnesses and families of inmates have been intimidated and live in fear for their lives. The system is broken, the bad guys are in control and the governor has been missing in action.

Four bills have been introduced in the General Assembly to crack down on the misuse of cell phones in prisons. The governor did not support any of them and he has consistently underfunded the prison security budget.

Solving the problem will take two actions. First, fire Mr. Maynard. Second, create a grand jury-like commission that will hear secret testimony from correctional officers, inmates and families, and also protect them.

The proposed public hearings by the legislative policy committee are composed of the governor's supporters and will accomplish little meaningful change.

It is time for Mr. O'Malley to put aside his presidential ambitions and focus on reforming Maryland's corrupt and mismanaged prison system.

Pat McDonough, Annapolis

The writer, a Republican, represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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