ANNAPOLIS — A panel of Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday recommended a plan to spend more than $533 million over 10 years to rebuild the old Baltimore City Detention Center, making it more secure and harder for prisoners to sneak in drugs, cellphones and other contraband.
The commission endorsed a plan already submitted by the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to rebuild the detention center as part of a proposal to overhaul state correctional facilities in the aftermath of a scandal earlier this year that resulted in federal indictments against 44 people, including 27 corrections officers.
They are accused of participating in a contraband- and drug-smuggling scheme involving the gang known as the Black Guerrilla Family from inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. Gang members distributed drugs to fellow detainees and used contraband cellphones to arrange sexual encounters, spread word about impending cell searches and conduct gang-related business with members on the street, according to the indictment.
The outdated design of the facilities makes it harder to maintain officer safety and reduce the flow of contraband, the report said.
“The best resolution to these issues is the demolition and replacement of the old, inadequate structures within the correctional complex,” said a report by the Special Joint Commission on Public Safety and Security in State and Local Correctional Facilities.
The panel endorsed 18 recommendations, including cellphone blocking technology for jails and the consideration of installing full body scanners. The commission also endorsed recommendations aimed at hiring better corrections officers and providing them with ongoing training once they are hired.
Del. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat who co-chaired the commission, said the recommendations will be outlined in legislation for next year’s General Assembly session, which begins in January.
“My expectation is that over the coming months, we’re going to work carefully with the rest of the General Assembly to ensure that those recommendations are implemented,” Guzzone said.
The correctional complex sits on 27 acres with more than 3,000 inmates. The proposal includes an estimated $296 million replacement of the Men’s Detention Center, which would be built in three phases beginning in fiscal year 2019. It also includes a $96 million replacement of the Women’s Detention Center, with construction beginning in fiscal year 2018.
The original Baltimore jail was built in 1801. A replacement was built in 1859. While there have been 11 renovations between 1859 and 1999, the aging buildings have a variety of problems, including poor lines of sight.
Other recommendations in the draft report included stiffening penalties for anyone who delivers a cellphone at a correctional facility. The panel decided not to recommend making the crime a felony, but to increase the penalty to five years in jail instead of three years.
The panel also recommended providing money to enhance safety and security pending the construction of the new facilities in Baltimore, including the replacement of manually operated corridor doors.