Task Force Recommends Changes At Maryland's Prisons
JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden. A scandal at a Baltimore jail this year prompted Maryland to review procedures that all of its state and local detention centers. Dozens of correction officers and others are accused of conspiring with gang members in the jail, smuggling in drugs, even having sex with inmates.
GOVERNOR MARTIN O'MALLEY: I share the public's revulsion at these allegations and we have a zero tolerance policy towards corruption of any kind.
LUDDEN: That's Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaking last spring when the story broke. Since then there have been two rounds of federal indictments in the case, and now a legislative taskforce has approved a set of recommendations it hopes will make things safer at the state's prisons. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.
ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Twenty-five defendants, including 13 corrections officers, were charged in a federal case of April of this year that included allegations of drug smuggling and sex between inmates and guards at the Baltimore City Detention Center. That includes a gang member that impregnated four female officers. Just last month, another 19 people, including 14 more corrections officers, were indicted. A Maryland legislative commission was created to review issues at all of its state prisons and local jails.
GUY GUZZONE: We came into this with the idea that there were potentially policy, budgetary and legislative changes that needed to be made.
KEYES: Maryland Delegate Guy Guzzone co-chaired the commission.
GUZZONE: We recommended changes in all of those areas.
KEYES: Among other things, a panelist recommending demolishing and replacing the Baltimore City Detention Center over a 10-year period at an estimated cost of $533 million. It also suggests requiring polygraphs for all new correctional officer applicants and evaluating the use of full-body scanners at the correctional facilities.
GARY MAYNARD: We looked at the body scanners, and it is a privacy issue.
KEYES: That's Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Gary Maynard, who attended the hearing a day after announcing his resignation. He says his party agrees with most of the recommendations. But he says the scanners are too expensive and invasive. Maynard also says new random search policies and the canine unit have cut down on the contraband being smuggled into the Baltimore city jail.
MAYNARD: Every shift, we pull 30 people that come into work. We pull them to the side. They go down to their underclothes. They search all of their clothing. They search the shoes. They search everything.
KEYES: The indictments allege that drugs, cell phones and other contraband were smuggled into the Baltimore facility by corrections officers and others in their hair, underwear and internally. Other recommendations from the taskforce include hiring more corrections officers. According to its final report, more than 800 additional positions need to be filled statewide to reach ideal staffing levels.
CORY TRUSTY: Right now, the morale is low. We're working short of staff.
KEYES: Cory Trusty is a corrections officer and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3737. He says the corrections officers recognize that change is needed in the wake of the scandal, and he adds the recommendations from the panel found there. But he says officers who did nothing wrong feel as if they are being treated like criminals.
TRUSTY: We come to work, we do our job, but, you know, some of the cameras that they installed are not focused on the inmates' activity. It's more focused on the officers.
KEYES: The taskforce report is being sent to the legislative policy committee, and lawmakers says legislation will be introduced where it calls for changes in law. Allison Keyes, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.