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Md. lawmakers meet with jail officials

The Baltimore City Detention Center, built in the Civil War era, needs to be demolished and replaced, a lawmaker who toured the jail with a small group of Republican legislators said Friday.

The lockup has been under scrutiny since last month when federal officials announced the indictment of 25 people — including 13 female correctional officers — in a conspiracy to bring in drugs, cellphones and other contraband. The ring involved sex between inmates and guards that resulted in four of the officers becoming pregnant, one of them twice, by Tavon White, leader of a gang called the Black Guerilla Family.

Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, and other lawmakers described it as a long-outdated facility with a variety of problems that make it harder to manage the busy traffic of detainees, their visiting family members and attorneys. They cited cell doors that don’t open because the ground has shifted. They also noted there is too much close contact between correctional officers and detainees. They said full body scans are needed, not just metal detectors, to prevent contraband from entering the facility.

“It would cost about $300 million,” Kipke said, noting the estimated cost of building a new facility. “It’s in the long-term plan for corrections. They’ve been asking the governor to fund that, and we think it’s essential. You can’t have cells, for example, where the doors have to be opened by a guard. You have to have it computerized so that there’s less contact between guards and prisoners.”

Participants in Friday’s tour included Dels. John Cluster, R-Baltimore County, Michael Hough, R-Frederick, Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil. They met with Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard, who has moved his office to the detention center to conduct a thorough investigation.

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced a variety of reforms this week, including the installation of new technology that blocks inmates’ ability to use contraband cellphones from correctional institutions. The governor also said he will urge lawmakers to pass a measure to make smuggling a cellphone into a correctional institute a felony punishable by additional jail time.

A briefing before the Legislative Policy Committee, which includes the chairs of committees and leadership of both parties in the Legislature, has been scheduled for June 19. A task force will be appointed to identify legislative and budgetary measures.

Cluster, who said he has concerns about a correctional facility in western Maryland, said Maynard has agreed to look into them.

“He took it upon himself to go ahead and start looking at it once he heard it,” Cluster, who noted he was confident in Maynard’s efforts, said.

Smigiel said officials plan to implement a recommendation next week to bring correctional officers from other facilities to search correctional officers who come to work there. Smigiel also said Maynard told the lawmakers that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. marshal’s office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were part of a joint effort to investigate corruption at the facility, along with the FBI.

The tour was closed to the media. The lawmakers spoke to reporters outside afterward.

“We wanted this to be an open tour, but unfortunately the press wasn’t allowed to be a part of it,” Kipke said.