Independent city jail audit shows widespread disorder
By By Kevin Rector and Carrie Wells and The Baltimore Sun
Jun 06, 2013 | 9:52 PM
Outside auditors warned the state early this year that conditions at the Baltimore jail had deteriorated to the point that the complex had become dangerous, allowing some inmates access to chemicals in a janitorial closet while others scrawled graffiti on the walls.
The state released the results of the investigation Thursday, as officials continued to face questions about a corruption scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Completed in February, the audit pointed to lax oversight of staff as a primary driver of problems at the jail.
Rick Binetti, a Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman, said many issues raised in the audit have been or are being addressed. The department has outlined a number of staffing changes to improve security.
Corrections Secretary Gary D. Maynard said at a legislative hearing Thursday that he wants to shut down the detention center, which dates back to before the Civil War, and replace it with a new facility. But he said that would be a challenge given the space constraints at the existing site on Eager Street.
Maynard had asked for the audit during a federal investigation at the facility that resulted in the indictment of two dozen people, including inmates and corrections officers accused of participating in a smuggling scheme orchestrated by the Black Guerrilla Family gang. Binetti said the audit was unrelated and that the secretary has routinely requested similar inquiries.
The audit was performed by members of the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency that provides technical assistance to jails and prisons around the country.
No standard structure is in place at the city jail for security checks or for how often they are conducted, the audit said. Many security gates are operated manually and have no electronic controls. Officers have a poor understanding of inmates' civil rights, and holding cells are "uniformly dirty."
It found that graffiti in some cells is so thick that the walls appear muraled, full of overlapping street-art taggings. Some hallway walls have simply been painted black to hide the dirt and graffiti. Hand-written signs and outdated staff memos litter the walls. And toilet paper has been crammed into nearly all the air vents at the central booking facility — a condition that neither auditors nor corrections officials explained.
The audit also faulted record-keeping at the jail. Correctional officers in the male and female detention centers, central booking and other jail facilities kept hand-written records of critical inmate movements, sometimes in erasable pencil, the audit found.
The Baltimore Sun requested the audit in a public records request shortly after the federal indictments were handed down. The audit's findings cover a wide range of operations at the city jail facilities, many of which focus on staffing procedures.
The chain of supervision was skewed as some corrections officers were named corporals after one year on the job, a system that the audit said left Baltimore's jail system with a "top heavy" workforce and "a lack of accountability that hinders day to day operation of the jail system."
"Excessive layers of administration and superfluous supervisors must be eliminated in order to improve efficiency and enhance accountability," wrote David M. Parrish and Timothy P. Ryan, the auditors.
The documents said staff left janitorial closets unlocked at the jail and surrounding facilities, giving inmates unsupervised access to potentially dangerous materials. Binetti said the closets have since been secured.
Maynard began rolling out solutions to the documented problems shortly after the audit was completed, Binetti said, and more changes are on the way.
"He's a big believer in third-party audits as a management tool," Binetti said. "A different set of eyes looking at operations can help point an institution in the right direction."
Binetti said Maynard has formed a group that will come up with new staff conduct guidelines. The team also is reviewing how officers compile and record where they were stationed, their supervisory duties and information about inmate searches.
A new front-entrance policy is already in place with more restrictions on what correctional officers are permitted to bring into the facility, he said.
The state also has moved to upgrade the security camera system and replace many that the department found broken at the facility in the wake of the indictment. Binetti said 144 of 231 cameras in the detention center were either completely broken or had some other problem, such as a cracked screen.
Also in the works are discussions with union officials about restructuring corrections officers' ranks and hours. The audit calls for the system to refine ranks but leave pay untouched.
Union members have called for better staffing, more training and expanded background checks of applicants.
"No one depends more on the integrity of a correctional officer for their personal safety than a fellow officer," said Glenard S. Middleton Sr., head of Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Union members "look forward" to working with correctional and elected officials "to review every facet of our work to improve and protect public safety for all," he said in said in a statement after the legislative hearing on Maryland corrections issues.
Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.