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Republicans blast O’Malley for jail scandal; governor plans reform

A smuggling scandal involving gang members and correctional officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center followed Gov. Martin O’Malley to a feel-good event at the Port of Baltimore Wednesday, where the governor was asked about the scandal by a national television crew.

Telling reporters that his administration inherited a corruption-laden correctional system that “we’ve been cleaning … up ever since,” O’Malley said something had to be done about inmates’ gaining access to cell phones.

On Thursday, the governor articulated his plan in a statement released just over an hour before House of Delegates Republicans again blasted O’Malley for the smuggling operation that revolved around drugs, sex and money in Baltimore.

“We have zero tolerance for corruption,” O’Malley said in a statement. “When members of murder networks are behind bars, the public has every right to expect that they will be prevented from committing further crimes.”

The statement went on to say that new technology was being installed to block contraband cell phone usage, enhancing security, and reviewing Correctional Officers’ Bill of Rights and how those officers can be disciplined.

O’Malley also said he would back previously failed legislation that would have made smuggling a cell phone into a correctional facility a felony.

That wasn’t enough for House Republicans, who on Thursday faulted the O’Malley administration for rampant corruption at Maryland’s jails and prisons.

“House Republicans are disappointed by inaction on this issue. It took days to hear from the administration and hearings to address this scandal have been pushed off until next month,” Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, said in a statement. “We encourage the Legislative Policy Committee to conduct a full investigation into all state correctional facilities that will identify ways we can work together to finally take action. While prison reform may not be a hot issue for a presidential campaign, it must be a priority for the State of Maryland.”

Leading lawmakers are expected to be briefed on the scandal at a June hearing, for which a final date has not been set. A task force will then likely be formed to explore legislative remedies to some of the problems identified at the briefing.