Detention inmates cry discrimination


Blacks in the county Detention Center's work release program believe that they are being discriminated against and that a black deputy superintendent should be hired to address the problem, according to a report prepared for County Executive Robert R. Neall.

The report, prepared for Mr. Neall by George L. Russell Jr., a Baltimore lawyer and former judge, stopped short of saying that a systematic pattern of racial discrimination exists at the detention center. But interviews with inmates and others associated with the work release program -- in which inmates are employed outside the detention center during the day -- tend to support the allegations.

"There does exist a public perception of racism, which is generated by the fact that 56% of the inmate population is black and almost every incident involves a white supervisor and a black inmate," Mr. Russell wrote. "Public perception sometimes can override reality."

Mr. Neall, who received the report this week, said he would act quickly on its recommendations.

"He is pleased the report did not find any systematic racial discrimination at the detention center," Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said. "However, he is concerned about the appearance or perception of any discrimination. He has asked Superintendent [Richard] Baker to provide some additional information. When he receives that, he will take the recommended actions."

Mr. Baker yesterday declined to comment on the report.

Among the allegations, black inmates said work release counselors made little effort on their behalf, white inmates were given better and higher-paying jobs, and the work release coordinator often refused to transport them to job interviews in a timely manner.

The inquiry was initiated at the request of Mr. Neall after he received a letter in April from Robert H. Eades, an inmate at the detention center. Eades complained, among other things, that black inmates were often considered only for menial restaurant jobs with low pay.

He also claimed he was unjustly removed from the work release program in April after guards discovered a pair of needle-nose pliers, lock picks and skeleton keys in a search when he returned to the detention center. Eades said he used the tools in his job at a recycling center and inadvertently left them in his pockets.

Mr. Russell interviewed Eades and five other inmates. All related specific examples of what they claimed was racial discrimination.

Several of the complaints focused on C. Mason White, the Work Release Job Development Counselor. The inmates charged that Mr. White, who is solely responsible for taking them to job interviews, often took them late or failed to take them at all. They also accused Mr. White of giving higher-paying jobs to white inmates and said he often insisted on speaking to a prospective employer before an interview, an opportunity they believe he used to paint a negative picture of them.

Mr. White told Mr. Russell that "he believes he is being blamed for a program that imposes too much for one person to do," the report said.

Inmates also complained about Molly Nussear, the Criminal Justice Program supervisor, who is in charge of the daily operation of the work release program. Complaints focused on what the inmates perceived as a lack of respect from Mrs. Nussear.

In the report, Mrs. Nussear said she does not believe there is any racial discrimination in the program. She complained about the lack of staff and acknowledged that she has had to turn inmates wanting immediate attention away from her office because she was busy handling other matters.

More staff is needed, she said, because the counselors do not have enough time to supervise inmates properly, "since all the time is spent fighting fires," the report said.

Mr. Russell acknowledged many of the problems that sparked the inmates' complaints stem from an overworked staff of four people who administer a program for about 140 inmates. In addition, the program is suffering from a lack of leadership and squabbling among staff members.

But Mr. Russell added that anecdotal evidence he received from the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development and the Legal Aid Bureau in Annapolis "tends to support and corroborate the allegation of disparate treatment of the black inmates."

The reports notes that work release staff members and Superintendent Baker strongly denied any racial motivations or race-based policy.

Mr. Russell's first recommendation was to hire a competent black person to fill a vacant deputy superintendent slot as soon as possible. "The lack of a competent black in a position of power sends the wrong message to the subordinate staff, at least subliminally, that racism and race discrimination is acceptable behavior," he wrote.

Other recommendations included:

* That no less than two additional counselors be authorized, and a full time on-site supervisor be appointed.

* That an impartial outsider should conduct appeal hearings for alleged violations of the rules before an inmate is removed from the work release program.

* That guidelines be issued for removal of inmates from the work release program, to prevent disparate treatment.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad