Pri­son rack­ets spread in Md.

Officials strug­gle to find means to root out per­va­sive cor­rup­tion

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Fen­ton and Kevin Rec­tor

With the lat­est round of fed­eral in­dict­ments against Mary­land cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers, top law en­force­ment officials are again pro­mot­ing their ef­forts to root out cor­rup­tion while fac­ing ques­tions over why such mis­con­duct con­tin­ues.

This week’s in­dict­ment of 80 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 18 cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers, at the state pri­son on the Eastern Shore out­lined ex­changes of hun­dreds of dol­lars at a time be­tween in­mates and of­fi­cers. The in­mates wanted heroin and co­caine to deal in­side. The of­fi­cers were smug­gling the drugs in.

The case comes three years af­ter an in­dict­ment at the state-run Bal­ti­more city jail de­picted a gang takeover of the fa­cil­ity. A few years be­fore that, sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions were raised in an­other in­dict­ment at a pri­son in Bal­ti­more.

“There’s am­ple ev­i­dence that Mary­land is trou­bled, go­ing back to the stuff at the House of Cor­rec­tion,” said Martin Horn, a John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice pro­fes­sor and for­mer New York City cor­rec­tions of­fi­cial, re­fer­ring to the state pri­son in Jes­sup that was shut­tered in 2007. “But it’s equally true that Mary­land [and] Bal­ti­more are not the only places that are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this. This is an in­creas­ing prob­lem through­out the coun­try.”

Ar­nett Gas­ton, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and pri­son gang ex­pert who rose to the top ranks of the New York and Mary­land cor­rec­tions sys­tems, said it’s a “good thing” that state officials say they were proac­tive

about launch­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion at the Eastern Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion.

But Gas­ton said the con­tin­ued re­ports of wide­spread cor­rup­tion in state-run fa­cil­i­ties points to a deeper prob­lem in Mary­land.

“There’s been mis­man­age­ment in the state sys­tem for quite some time, and un­for­tu­nately there’s been no ma­jor con­certed ef­forts to re­vamp the sys­tem,” said Gas­ton, a for­mer Univer­sity of Mary­land pro­fes­sor. “As long as you don’t do that, it should come as no sur­prise that you’re go­ing to have re­cur­rent sit­u­a­tions.”

Mary­land U.S. At­tor­ney Rod J. Rosen­stein char­ac­ter­ized the in­dict­ments as a sign that his of­fice and Mary­land’s se­nior cor­rec­tions officials — who were not im­pli­cated in the schemes — are ded­i­cated to root­ing out cor­rup­tion in a sys­tem that pro­vides high fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for crim­i­nal­ity.

“Some peo­ple as­sume that a pri­son is like an is­land, and you can lock peo­ple in­side and pre­vent all con­tact with the out­side world. But one of the things that you learn about pri­son man­age­ment in the course of these in­ves­ti­ga­tions is that it doesn’t work that way,” Rosen­stein said.

“You have three shifts of em­ploy­ees com­ing in and out of fa­cil­i­ties. You have con­trac­tors, de­liv­ery peo­ple, main­te­nance peo­ple, re­pair­men, vis­i­tors, pris­on­ers them­selves com­ing in and out. And this poses a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety in try­ing to main­tain the in­tegrity of the fa­cil­ity.”

Stephen Moyer, Mary­land’s sec­re­tary of pub­lic safety and cor­rec­tional ser­vices, said he took over in De­cem­ber 2014 with a spe­cific goal of fight­ing cor­rup­tion.

Moyer said there are open cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions in fa­cil­i­ties across the state, show­ing his agency is de­ter­mined to build cases against those who are bent on us­ing their govern­ment po­si­tion to com­mit crime.

“We’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to keep this con­tra­band out,” Moyer said, but quickly added that there are lim­its. “When 30 to 40 sub­ox­one strips are se­creted within the body cav­ity some­where, no, we’re not go­ing to be do­ing strip searches of the em­ploy­ees com­ing through,” he said. “But that is how a lot of this con­tra­band is get­ting into these fa­cil­i­ties.”

Moyer said he as­signed in­ves­ti­ga­tors from his agency to the FBI and the of­fices of the U.S. at­tor­ney, the at­tor­ney gen­eral and the Bal­ti­more state’s at­tor­ney. He launched “con­tra­band in­ter­dic­tion teams” to per­form “more unan­nounced in­ter­dic­tions than ever be­fore.”

He be­gan re­quir­ing ap­pli­cants to the agency to sub­mit to poly­graph tests, as he staffed his hu­man re­sources of­fice with “re­tired po­lice of­fi­cers who worked as ex­ec­u­tives in ma­jor po­lice de­part­ments.”

Officials with the union that rep­re­sents Mary­land pri­son em­ploy­ees stressed that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan three years ago with a tip from a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer con­cerned about the mis­con­duct. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of of­fi­cers want to work free of con­cern about col­leagues con­spir­ing with in­mates, they said.

“Our of­fi­cers are peo­ple of hon­esty and in­tegrity, and they want to con­tinue work­ing with peo­ple of hon­esty and in­tegrity,” said Pat Mo­ran, pres­i­dent of a local of­fice of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees.

Ron McAn­drew, a re­tired Florida war­den, said cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers are “a very honor­able peo­ple,” but he be­lieves “there’s a dirty, rot­ten 5 per­cent” in ev­ery cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity in the coun­try.

Of the se­ries of in­dict­ments in Mary­land, he said, “It says some­thing to me in very loud terms. It says that if this is the third or fourth time that large-scale oper­a­tions have been un­cov­ered, some­one at the top is not do­ing his or her job.”

If the per­son at the top is rel­a­tively new, like Moyer, it means he has his hands full and lots of im­prove­ments to make, McAn­drew said. “You’ve got to walk, you’ve got to talk, you’ve got to keep your ear to the ground and you have to talk to pris­on­ers and your staff to find out what’s go­ing on in your in­sti­tu­tions,” he said.

The union pointed to a large num­ber of open po­si­tions within the cor­rec­tions sys­tem, strain­ing the ex­ist­ing work­force.

“We un­der­stand they’re try­ing to hire good peo­ple, but you’ve got to do a bet­ter job,” said Jeff Pittman, a spokesman for AFSCME. “By their own ad­mis­sion, they’ve pulled in 15 new of­fi­cers who’ve gone through the [train­ing] academy, out of 700 po­si­tions that they ad­mit that they’re down.”

Horn, the John Jay pro­fes­sor, said Mary­land should treat cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers like its state troop­ers. The start­ing salary for a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer in Mary­land has been $38,000. State troop­ers start at $35,000 but jump to $46,000 af­ter com­plet­ing the train­ing academy.

“I think if we be­gan to treat our cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers — their salary, their train­ing, our ex­pec­ta­tion of their pro­fes­sion­al­ism — as we do our state po­lice, we would see bet­ter out­comes,” Horn said.

Af­ter the city jail scan­dal, some ex­perts said the local staff was more sus­cep­ti­ble to col­lud­ing with in­mates who came from the same neigh­bor­hood or ran in sim­i­lar so­cial cir­cles. That’s not the case at ECI, the state’s largest pri­son, where local pri­son guards over­see in­mates brought there from across the state.

Gas­ton points to a clos­ing gap be­tween the so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus of in­mates and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers.

He said from a so­ci­o­log­i­cal stand­point, there are ben­e­fits to hav­ing in­mates and of­fi­cers share sim­i­lar back­grounds. “But it also di­min­ishes some of the bar­ri­ers that once were in place,” he said, and brings risks.

“There’s a closer iden­tity be­tween the keep­ers and the kept than there has ever been be­fore,” Gas­ton said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.