Corrections department questioned over pace of jail review
By By Ian Duncan and The Baltimore Sun
Jun 27, 2013 | 9:04 PM
Maryland corrections officials faced questions from state lawmakers Thursday over whether they are acting swiftly enough to investigate potential corruption among employees.
A legislative panel on prison corruption met for the first time in the aftermath of an April federal indictment that alleged 25 people — including 13 corrections officers — were part of a Black Guerrilla Family gang contraband smuggling operation at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
As the group questioned Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard, some lawmakers expressed surprise that his agency had not finished investigating supervisors to determine how widely corruption might have spread among jail employees.
Del. John W. E. Cluster Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, said he wanted to hear of more progress.
"I would hope you were moving a bit faster," he said.
Maynard said investigators were continuing to review employees at the jail, and pointed out that the head of security at the city jail had been removed. Another worker there has resigned, he said, but did not provide further details.
He said the corrections department also has been focused on installing new technology that will prevent Baltimore City Detention Center inmates from making calls using contraband phones. The system will be online by November, Maynard said, and added that similar equipment has prevented thousands of calls from leaving a neighboring facility since it was installed in April.
The FBI alleged in the indictment that cellphones were a key tool for gang members to organize their activity, inside and outside the jail.
At a previous hearing, the corrections chief said all employees at the jail were subject to review and that investigators would pay special attention to the supervisors of the 13 women named in the federal indictment. But on Thursday, he said the department had only looked at officers down to the rank of lieutenant.
Sens. Christopher B. Shankand Nathaniel J. McFaddensaid they were worried about a provision in state law that gives the department 90 days to bring charges after it learns of potential wrongdoing.
Shank, a Washington County Republican, said similar provisions for law enforcement officers give investigators a one-year window. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, asked what would happen when time ran out.
"If no action is taken on that employee, we can't do anything about it," said Kevin Loeb, the director of legislative affairs for the corrections department.
"That's what I thought you'd say," McFadden said, adding that he would be interested in changing that law.
McFadden said he also was concerned about how long Tavon White, the alleged leader of the jail gang, had been held at the jail. White had been detained on attempted-murder charges for more than three years. Statistics compiled by the Department of Legislative Services showed the average length of time people await trial in jail has increased in recent years.
Archer Blackwell, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 67,which represents corrections officers at the jail, said the department ought to be investing in technology that would raise morale among staff. His priorities include stab-proof vests and two-way radios.
"If anything happens, you can call for help," he said of the radios. "It's kind of a lifeline really."
Department spokesman Rick Binetti said radios and vests were already available to corrections officers.
Del. Guy J. Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat who is one of the chairs of the panel, said after the hearing that the group's work will take time and that it will look at all possible solutions.
"It's like anything, you've got to find a balance," he said. "A combination of technology and personnel."
In addition to the cellphone-blocking technology, Maynard said,the department has set up a new surveillance system with a control room that lets operators review footage from the previous 45 days. And Maynard said the department is looking into installing airport-style full-body scanners, but he added that they would cost $175,000 each.