The Hogan administration took a page from Martin O’Malley this week in characterizing the indictment of 25 corrections officers and staff — on charges of conspiracy, gang participation and misconduct in office — as evidence of excellence.
“I don’t see it as a failure,” Robert L. Green, secretary of the state corrections department, told reporters. “Evidence here today is that we investigated this case, we brought this forward. It is a committed effort to be excellent.”
Six and a half years ago, then Gov. O’Malley called the indictment of corrections staff and inmates, in a sweeping contraband scheme involving the Black Guerilla Family gang, “a very positive development.”
Both men were making the point that their corrections agencies were part of the indictment efforts, and therefore should be credited with rooting out crime. It was thin spin then, and it still is today.
This is at least the fifth such prison corruption case brought since Gov. Larry Hogan took office in 2015, and each represents nothing less than a shameful breakdown in oversight by the department of corrections. Same goes for the O’Malley case. You don’t get a clap on the back for helping end crimes that prospered on your watch; the job is to prevent them from ever occurring.
As we said of Mr. O’Malley’s corrections department following the 2013 scandal: “Indeed, it would be worse if the state prisons system had ignored the problem or failed to cooperate with federal investigators. But there is no getting around the fact that department of corrections allowed the Black Guerrilla Family gang to flourish in the first place through negligence, mismanagement, corruption or some combination of the three.”
This time around, the alleged gang wasn’t the BGF, it was the TAC, according to court documents filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Indictments claim the supervisor and about half the members of the Baltimore Central Region Tactical Unit (TAC) within the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services made up a “criminal gang” that used violence to “maintain dominance of its operational territory” in four Maryland facilities.
To be fair, Mr. Green can’t be blamed for any of the alleged behavior; he’s only held the top spot since May. That could be better directed toward his predecessor, Stephen T. Moyer, whom Mr. Hogan appointed in February 2015.
In his first interview after assuming the job, Mr. Moyer told The Baltimore Sun he’d addressed most of the recommendations offered by a joint legislative commission to improve the prison system post O’Malley scandal. “There is something wrong when you have that many employees that ended up being indicted,” he said.
Then, in 2016, federal agents indicted 80 people in what was described as the largest prison corruption case in Maryland history; 16 corrections officers were convicted.
In 2017, a sergeant who worked at the Jessup prison was arrested for overseeing the Crips street gang inside the facility.
In 2018, 18 people, including two corrections officers, were charged with smuggling heroin, cocaine and cellphones into Jessup.
And in April of this year, a month after Mr. Moyer resigned to take a job in Florida with a health care system, federal authorities arrested 19 people — including three corrections officers — and charged them with running a smuggling ring Jessup.
That’s a lot more excellence than we’re comfortable with.
Admittedly, it is a difficult job running corrections in Maryland. Those who become corrections officers often come from the same neighborhoods as the inmates they oversee, making fraternization hard to avoid. The pay is low (starting around $36,000 a year) and the stress factor high — along with the temptation to make a quick buck smuggling. Still, most corrections officers conduct themselves honorably, even in such challenging circumstances.
“This is a disturbing case, but it does not and should not cast a shadow on the commitment and integrity of the exceptional correctional professionals in this department.” Mr. Green told reporters. In a follow up interview with us Wednesday, he added that it’s the “individuals involved in the activities [who] bear responsibility.”
And he’s right — to a point. The bad actions of some individuals are theirs alone; that’s true. But the responsibility also falls on the shoulders of their supervisors. The buck always stops with leadership.
Mr. Green has a long, respected history in corrections, having started his career as a correctional officer in Maryland in 1985, and we are rooting for his success. We don’t expect perfection in corrections or an overnight overhaul of problems. But we do expect transparency in reform efforts and a reasonable willingness to be held accountable for failures.
Accountability, in fact, is a favorite topic of Mr. Hogan’s, which makes the replay of the O’Malley excuse all the more disappointing.