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New Steps To Combat Prison Gangs, Root Out Corruption Put Forward

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Sex, drugs, phones and cash. A major problem inside a Baltimore City jail leads to federal indictments against correctional  officers. Now lawmakers meet to grill prison leaders about how to fix the issue.

Mike Hellgren has more on the hearing.

It happened as an audit was just released, showing sloppy conditions at the state-run city jails, including dirty and dangerous conditions with little accountability for officers.

The head of corrections says he’s already working to fix that.

Some lawmakers say a picture, reportedly showing gang members in jail, talking on cell phones and smoking cigars, is emblematic of the way inmates are in control in some Maryland correctional facilities.

Federal authorities say one inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center impregnated several officers.

Thursday, the head of Maryland’s correctional system, Gary Maynard, faced questions from lawmakers for the first time.

“With our assistance, the federal government has brought 156 indictments against gang members. Even if we knew it might lead to exposing our own corrupt staff,” Maynard said.

Leaders of the General Assembly trumpeted a commission to look at every aspect of corrections, but some question whether that’s enough.

“Management allowed it to happen by not disciplining the inmates as they should, making the facility a correctional facility instead of a country club,” said Herbert Berry Jr., Law Enforcement Union.

Among new security measures, corrections officials say they’re now fingerprinting visitors at the Baltimore City Detention Center. They opened an employee hotline for corruption and expanded background checks for officers.

And they’ve worked to ban illegal cell phones inmates are using to run criminal enterprises on the outside.

They’re also involving top prosecutors.

“This is not just a Baltimore City problem, this is a problem that can be found in any detention facility anywhere in the state,” said Scott Shellenberger, Baltimore County State’s Attorney.

More than 100 officers have been accused of corruption since 2007.

Maynard has no plans to resign, as lawmakers pledge a full investigation.

“Once we understood the gang issues at the detention center, we assumed the responsibility for them and went after them,” said Secretary Gary Maynard, Department of Public Safety.

Maynard says they expect to install cell phone blocking technology at the Baltimore City Detention Center. But there are no plans at this point to move it statewide.

The state is also looking into buying full body scanners and hiring intelligence officers to reduce contraband and corruption. The price tag is in the millions.

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