New state boss lays down the law at Baltimore jail Flanagan wants rats kept out, inmates in

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An article yesterday incorrectly identified the county represented by Delegate Timothy F. Maloney. Mr. Maloney is a Democrat from Prince George's County.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

LaMont W. Flanagan may be the boss of the Baltimore City Detention Center, but there was no way he was going to get into that jail Thursday afternoon without signing the visitors log and getting a pass.

Mr. Flanagan had left his identification card at his office, and under the new rules -- which he laid down nearly two months ago -- all employees must wear their identification cards inside jail walls.

"It's my own fault. I left it in my briefcase," Mr. Flanagan said as the jail guard patted down the acting commissioner of the state Division of Detention and Pretrial Services.

Since the state took control of the Baltimore City Jail July 1, installed new management and renamed it the Baltimore City Detention Center, Mr. Flanagan has been laboring to gain control over the jail and instill order.

Two weeks ago, he ordered a "shakedown" of the entire jail. It was the first comprehensive shakedown in a year.

A handful of knives and hypodermic needles were found, but Mr. Flanagan said he will attack the problem of contraband in the jail by preventing any from coming in rather than dealing with it once it is inside.

He has already made some simple changes in the way inmates and goods enter and leave the jail.

Separate gates have been established for inmates leaving and entering. Under the old arrangement, inmates coming in were mixing with those leaving. In addition, deliveries of food, medicine and other supplies were made to the same gate. The chaos that created made it easy for drugs, weapons and liquor to slip in undetected past the guards.

"We cut down on the number of people passing through the gates. Small numbers give you more control," Mr. Flanagan said. "By moving the commercial delivery gate 50 feet, we have significantly improved security inside the jail."

To keep track of inmates participating in jail work programs, Mr. Flanagan "scrounged around" in the corrections system for all the orange overalls he could find. Any inmate working anywhere on the jail grounds is now immediately identifiable.

He also hired an outside exterminator to combat the rats and roaches that have overrun the jail. "These are the only inhabitants that don't seem to want to leave the jail," Mr. Flanagan said.

Not all the changes can be achieved so quickly. Mr. Flanagan said one of his major goals is improving the morale of jail employees and the public's opinion of them.

Over the years, jail employees had been conditioned to accept ** the deplorable conditions in which they worked, which in turn lowered their morale, Mr. Flanagan said. He said that he was going to "re-educate" all the employees.

"This institution has had a history of violence, escape, erroneous releases and general inmate chaos. My charge from Secretary Robinson is to turn things around," he said, referring to Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services.

Mr. Flanagan believes that the only efficient way to run the jail is to lay down rules and follow them to the letter. His system allows no exceptions -- even for the boss.

More than two dozen jail employees were fired after they failed drug tests, and about 20 others have lost their jobs. Mr. Flanagan would not say why they were fired.

The firing of longtime jail employees doesn't sit well with Ricardo Silva, field director of the Maryland Corrections Union.

"We were told that if they did a good job they would be retained by the state, but we have seen people terminated without being given a reason," he said. "We had a case of a 30-year employee who was terminated. If the state continues with this arbitrary and capricious behavior, it will lower morale."

Mr. Flanagan defended his right to fire people to manage the jail efficiently, but he said most of the employees should not fear for their jobs.

"We inherited a lot of good people who were operating in an environment of insufficient resources and leadership. Give them the proper leadership and they will motivate themselves. Give them the proper recognition and pride and they will be exemplary employees," he said.

Mr. Flanagan came to Maryland after spending 18 months overseeing inmate rehabilitation programs for prisoners in Virginia. Earlier, he worked at Riker's Island supervising the creation and management of court-mandated law libraries in the New York City corrections system.

Not all of his career has been spent in corrections. Mr. Flanagan, who obtained a law degree in 1975 from Albany Law School, has worked with an international trading company in Washington, D.C.; been deputy director of the New York Mortgage Agency; and been counsel to the New York Senate committees on banking and on corrections.

Longtime critics of the jail administration such as Frank Dunbaugh, the attorney representing the inmates in a 15-year class-action suit against the city and state over conditions in the jail, believe Mr. Flanagan represents a big improvement in jail management.

"He has a much better grasp of the overall picture," said Mr. Dunbaugh. "He is certainly moving in the right direction. My sense is that whatever they are doing is what the city should have done. They are trying to do the job but they have been stuck with a fair amount of leftover problems from the city."

The problem that has created the most adverse publicity for the jail was the discovery of inmates who were "lost" in the system.

A little over two weeks ago, it was disclosed that Martin E. Henn, 54, a homeless alcoholic had been languishing in the jail for more than nine months without a trial date. He had been charged with arson and malicious destruction of property but through a series recordkeeping errors had been forgotten.

Within days, Mr. Flanagan announced that jail officials had found at least 93 other inmates who had no trial dates on their jail records, including Darryl E. Dodd, 30, who had spent more than 500 days in jail on minor theft and related charges.

Although the previous jail administration was to blame for losing the inmates and they were "flagged" by a procedure instituted by Mr. Flanagan that looks for inmates without trial dates or who have been in jail for more 120 days, he found himself having to answer for mistakes that were not of his own doing.

"My style is aggressive and result-oriented," he said. "I have to carry my responsibilities. That's what they pay me for."

Those responsibilities have been made somewhat easier by new state funding for the jail.

Many of the changes Mr. Flanagan has instituted are being funded by appropriations from the General Assembly that were not available when the Schmoke administration and its predecessors ran the jail, according to Melvin Richardson, a guard captain.

"There was never any money to solve some of these problems. We would try to chop and chop at these problems, but we would never make any progress," he said.

Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Montgomery, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections, said the lack of investment in the jail has resulted in a number of problems but that just pouring money into the jail would not have solved them.

"There were significant physical problems, and there were obvious management problems," he said. "We knew going in there was going to be a significant capital investment needed," he said of the state's takeover of the jail. The state expects to spend $20 million in capital and operating costs for the current fiscal year.

For nearly two hours last week, Mr. Flanagan led four reporters on a tour of the jail. Despite temperatures of almost 100 degrees, he looked crisp. He bounded up and down stairs, pointing out improvements and changes that he has ordered to increase security.

Mr. Flanagan proudly showed off a room still under construction in the Jail Industries Building, across East Madison Street, where inmates will be processed for release. Under the new system, guards will have computer access to jail records and a fingerprint machine that will verify the identity of each inmate awaiting release.

"Once this in operation, we are not going to have the erroneous releases," he said.

In addition, jail guards, who are now called correctional officers, have been given radios for communication. In the past, they used whistles to communicate with each other.

And guards have been given new 9mm guns because Mr. Flanagan considered the ones they had "antiques that probably would not have fired if the guards had to use them."

Concerned about the number of attempted escapes from the jail -- two within the last few weeks -- Mr. Flanagan has ordered the installation of 18-inch razor wire wherever there is barbed wire now.

"I have seen guys get through wire like that," he said, pointing to the barbed-wire. "With razor wire it cuts you to shreds every time you move. It is unfortunate that we have to resort to barbaric methods, but not much has changed in the penal system since the 14th century."

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