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Maryland Governor To Close Baltimore City Jail Over Corruption


And now to Baltimore, where Maryland governor Larry Hogan announced today that he's shutting down the Baltimore City Men's Detention Center.


LARRY HOGAN: The Baltimore City Detention Center has been a black eye for our state for too long. By many accounts, the Baltimore City Detention Center is the worst prison in America.

BLOCK: You might remember it from a scandal that broke two years ago. Federal prosecutors indicted dozens of correction officers and inmates as part of an investigation into the gang known as the Black Guerrilla Family. As Governor Hogan put it today, incarcerated gang members were literally running the jail. They smuggled contraband, trafficked drugs and engage in sex with guards, four of whom became pregnant. For more on the closure, I'm joined now by Christopher Connelly of member station WYPR. And Christopher, this is a corrections facility with a long history of problems and also a long history of lawsuits over poor conditions. Why don't you tell us more about it?

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: Right. So this is, like, a giant hulking and aging jail complex right in the middle of East Baltimore. The oldest part is what's being shut down, and that's a building that dates all the way back to the 1850s. That building houses mostly pretrial folks, and it's just this giant stone fortress surrounded by barbed wire. And inside, the conditions are awful. They've been described as dangerous, as squalid, as deplorable. There've been lawsuits going back decades, all the way back to the '70s over the conditions in the jail.

The most recent filing was filed last month by the ACLU, and they said that there were descriptions of vermin in the place. There are - there's no air-conditioning, and this is a city that's brutally hot and humid. And then I talked to one retired corrections officers who described toilets that leak and even drip down onto floors below. And he said it's also a dangerous place for guards at times. It's full of blind corners, and it doesn't have a lot of the modern safety systems that jails typically have.

BLOCK: Well, the federal investigation into the gang that I mentioned found that they had a ringleader in jail, even a minister of finance. Did it become clear in the course of that investigation how they managed to do that all from within the jail?

CONNELLY: Well, they did it, really, through intimidation and through buying people off. Gang members also maintained sexual relationships with some of the female guards and had children with them, and they really ran their operation. They used cell phones that are contraband in the jail. The jail, at the time, didn't have the kind of cell phone blocking technology you see in more modern places. You know, and there's just this really widespread corruption. There were 40 convictions by the end of the trial.

BLOCK: Well, given this sordid history that you're describing, was today's announcement that this part of the jail, anyway, will be shut down - did that come as a surprise?

CONNELLY: Well, Governor Hogan seems to have played this really close to his best. It's a state-run facility, even though it's the city's jail. So the governor didn't have to consult with city leaders, and it really seems like he didn't. I mean, a statement the mayor's office just sent out said that she's looking forward to hearing the details from the Hogan administration. So I think it came as a surprise to a lot of city leaders that it happened so quickly and without any advanced notice. On the other hand, there have been so many problems for so many years that, you know, people have been talking about closing it down for a long time.

BLOCK: What's the timeline on the closure, and what will happened to the inmates who are there?

CONNELLY: Right. So the timeline's not exactly clear - but soon. The governor said immediately, probably in the next few months. And the inmates really - so what - they're closing just one building down. There are other buildings that house inmates in the area, and they are basically going to just move them out to those complexes. It may push some folks who've already been sentenced out to other state facilities, but they're really not going very far. They're just going into empty beds in other buildings in the area.

BLOCK: OK. Christopher Connelly of member station WYPR, thanks.

CONNELLY: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
Christopher Connelly
Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.
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