Commissioners Recommend New Jail After BCDC Scandal

BALTIMORE — Cell phone scramblers, improved officer screenings and a new $553 million jail are several ways Maryland officials hope to improve the scandal-mired Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC). The facility has been in the spotlight since April 2013, when more than a dozen correctional officers and multiple inmates were indicted on charges ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking.

In June, a 14-member panel of delegates and senators was tasked with cleaning up the facility; where members of the Black Guerilla Family gang dealt widely in illicit drugs, cell phones and sex. According to its recently published report, the group conducted “an in-depth study and critical review of the laws, regulations, policies and practices affecting safety and security at all state prisons and local jails.” The commission heard testimony from correctional officials, attorneys and union representatives, and also conducted a site visit of the BCDC.

On Dec. 11, the group published 18 recommendation aimed at eliminating this widespread corruption. Proposals ranged from reviewing case management systems to increasing penalties for those who supply inmates with contraband. The commission also recommended that improvements be made to the existing facility, such as replacing manually operated corridor doors. Others, such as potentially implementing full-body scanners and creating a risk assessment tool for all inmates, have already been met with criticism. However, the recommendation to construct a new $553 million correctional complex is receiving the most attention.

The proposed jail would replace the original BCDC building, which houses both pretrial detainees and short-term offenders. The jail was first constructed in 1801 and is home to more than 3,000 inmates. Though the current structure has undergone multiple additions and renovations, most recently in 1999, the building features poor sight lines, aging plumbing and outdated security features. Demolition and construction of the new jail complex, which would include a $30 million Youth Detention Center and $96 million women’s facility, is expected to span ten years. However, the bulk of any potential construction will concentrate on a 2,304-bed, $296 million men’s facility. Commissioners stressed that the administration should make this expansive project a priority of its five-year Capital Improvement Program.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has not committed to funding the proposed jail. A spokeswoman for O’Malley reports that the governor is currently developing next year’s budget proposal, and is not yet prepared to share specific funding allocation details. To date, 44 people have now faced federal indictment related to the corruption case, 27 of which are BCDC correctional officers.