Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan climbed into an excavator Tuesday, smashing a window in a fortress-like cell block in Baltimore that had housed prisoners and detainees for more than a century.
First built as the Maryland Penitentiary in the 1800s, the dark granite building later became part of a state-owned city jail complex that was shuttered in 2015, following years of complaints over living conditions and a gang scandal within its walls.
After nearly two years of demolition, the city jail has been reduced largely to piles of gravel.
Hogan has promised to replace the old jail complex with a therapeutic detention center. He’s said that people with addiction problems who are arrested could be detained there before trial, with access to a suite of treatment options.
But it remains unclear when that project might get off the ground. No money has been spent on planning or design of the therapeutic center.
“Obviously we were focused on tearing these 17 buildings down,” the Republican governor said when asked about a timeline for the project.
Robert L. Green, the state secretary of public safety and correctional services, said information about the project would be forthcoming in the governor’s next budget.
The governor’s next budget will be proposed in January and will cover state government spending from July 2022 through June 2023. It will be the last budget of Hogan’s second term as governor, as he’s barred from running again due to term limits.
“It’s a complex project,” Green said. “We’re moving now to the design phase. That’s a two-year phase, which will be coming up immediately following the demolition.”
Green could not say how much it would cost to design and build the treatment center, which is envisioned to have room for 1,400 detainees, both men and women.
“Those estimates will be available in this coming budget year, and in the out years of what we’ll do each year,” he said.
The demolition of the jail buildings cost $27 million. The jail site is sandwiched between East Madison and East Eager streets, east of the Jones Falls Expressway. It’s surrounded by other correctional facilities, including the Central Booking and Intake Center.
As Hogan spoke, a voice was heard yelling from one of the nearby buildings.
Despite the lack of specifics on the therapeutic treatment center, Hogan and Green hailed it as an important evolution in the criminal justice system.
“What was once a source of embarrassment for the city and our state will instead become a beacon of hope for those struggling with addiction to get the help that they need to heal, to recover and to turn their lives around,” Hogan said.
Hogan also touted the demolition of the jail as “another important step in the revitalization of Baltimore City.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
The jail has been owned by the state since 1991. Like other Maryland jails, it housed a mix of detainees awaiting trial and inmates serving short sentences.
Spread over several aging buildings, the jail evolved into a dangerous facility where criminal activity thrived. By 2013, the notorious Black Guerrilla Family gang was effectively running the complex, according to prosecutors who won convictions of dozens of inmates and correctional officers.
Following that scandal, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed a 10-year, $500 million plan to gradually tear down the jail buildings and replace it. That plan got the sign-off from a legislative commission.
Hogan, who took office in January 2015, ordered the jail closed that same year and moved its nearly 1,100 detainees to other correctional facilities — much swifter than the previous plan, which the governor touted Tuesday.
“We shut down the jail in just a few weeks ... And now, as demolition comes to a close, we are bringing to an end the long, checkered history of the former jail,” Hogan said.
The demolition will take a couple more weeks, according to Melvin Solis and Jeffrey Holland, heavy equipment operators for Celtic Demolition who guided the governor in his ceremonial turn in the excavator.
Climbing down from the excavator, Hogan suggested he’d like to return: “If you guys need some help, I’m going to come back later.”
This article has been updated to clarify that no money has been spent on planning the new facility.