As Maryland Republicans turned up the heat on Gov. Martin O’Malley over a high-profile corruption case in a Baltimore jail, the Democratic governor announced new steps Thursday to beef up security and uproot corruption.
Del. Nicholaus Kipke joined Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, and Del. John Cluster, R-Baltimore County, in calling for a wider investigation throughout the state’s corrections system. Their announcement at an Annapolis news conference came a day after a new federal indictment was announced against gang members for allegedly breaking the law to provide financial support to incarcerated “Bloods” gang members in Howard County.
“This problem is not isolated to Baltimore city,” Kipke, the recently elected House minority leader, said. “It needs to be addressed in all aspects of corrections. Marylanders deserve it. The good corrections officers who are doing the job that we’ve hired them to do deserve to work in a safe environment, and it’s time for the governor and the Democratic leadership of Maryland to take action.”
O’Malley, for his part, announced the state will be installing new technology that blocks inmates’ ability to use contraband cellphones from correctional institutions. O’Malley also said he will urge the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation to make smuggling a cellphone into a correctional institute a felony punishable by additional prison time.
“We have zero tolerance for corruption,” O’Malley said in a statement released at the same time as the GOP’s news conference. “When members of murder networks are behind bars, the public has every right to expect that they will be prevented from committing further crimes.”
O’Malley also said the administration is reviewing the statewide discipline manual to consider updated policies and measures that will increase the state’s ability to crack down on correctional officers who violate the public’s trust.
Last month, federal officials announced that 25 people had been indicted, including 13 correctional officers accused of plotting to smuggle drugs, cellphones and other contraband at the Baltimore City Detention Center as part of an alleged Black Guerrilla Family gang conspiracy. O’Malley was on a trade mission to the Middle East when the indictments were announced, and he did not personally respond to the case until about a week later.
O’Malley is considering a run for the White House in 2016, and Kipke criticized the governor for being more focused on a potential presidential race than the job at hand.
“We ask that you stop running around the country, running for president, get back into your office and take responsibility for the office of which you’ve been elected,” Kipke said.
The governor told reporters last week that he had been aware of the federal investigation last spring. He also underscored that it was Gary Maynard, the head of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, who approached federal officials about the problem.
“We are continuing to coordinate with our federal law enforcement partners on investigations and prosecutions,” O’Malley said in Thursday’s statement.
Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the department, noted that the administration has been taking steps to address gang crime in prisons since the start of O’Malley’s tenure. Efforts have included intelligence sharing on gang activity and contraband interdiction. Since 2007, Binetti said, 7,365 gang members have been identified. Inmate-on-staff serious assaults are down 65 percent and inmate-on-inmate assaults have dropped 47 percent, Binetti said.
But Republicans have criticized leadership in the Democrat-controlled Legislature for failing to pass legislation this year to crack down on contraband cellphone use by inmates, even though O’Malley’s administration has pushed for strengthening the law.
Cluster, a retired police officer, noted that Maynard had tried to get the legislation through in previous years. This year, Cluster said they approached him to sponsor a bill that would add five years on to an inmate’s sentence for the second time an inmate is caught with a cellphone, but it still failed to pass out of the House Judiciary Committee.
“It would be a big deterrent to what’s going on in prison,” Cluster said.
House Republicans also called for an independent audit of the state’s corrections system, and they recommended an outside agency monitor entrances to correctional facilities.
“We need an outside agency right now to take over the gates of the correctional facilities and search the people that are coming in there, because right now you don’t know who you can trust, and you’re just not sure who’s the good guys and who the bad guys are,” Cluster said.