Baltimore’s Bastille Needs Expert Teardown


“Who does that?” Who knowingly and willingly breaks the law who has been sworn to uphold the law? Who knowingly and willingly has sexual relations and gets impregnated not once, but twice by a murder suspect whose name is visibly tattooed on not one, but two women’s body parts?

Well, if the federal indictment handed up last week charging that a seedy, sweeping criminal enterprise operated inside and outside the Baltimore City Detention Center by the Black Guerilla Family proves true, at least four female corrections officers shamefully “did that!”

These women and others charged not only disrespected their families and those who entrusted them, but they also showed how much they disrespect themselves. They may have even put the future employment of female correction officers in jeopardy.

For whom? For what? A car, a cell phone, sex, a misogynist of inconceivable character? But the shame is not theirs alone. Pass the blame around from the statehouse to the jailhouse, because we’re hard pressed to believe that all this criminal activity and self-debasing behavior went on for so long, as charged in the indictment of no less than 25 defendants, without a lot of
people turning a blind eye. “Who does that?”

How else to explain a grand jury indictment which paints a picture that resembles animals taking over a zoo? Drugs, cigarettes, cell phones and other contraband were allegedly smuggled into the jail under a corruption scheme that included 13 corrections officers, all under a group headed, in jail, by a man held for murder, Tavon White, 36, who impregnated four guards, according to the indictment. He and Tiffany Linder, 27, who is eight months pregnant, were the first to plead not guilty to the charges earlier this week in court.

As it should, the legislature has called for a hearing. Perhaps they should call Walter Ridley as an expert witness. He has 42 years of experience in criminal justice.

Ridley heads the Prince George’s County-based Ridley Group Consultants and is the former head of the D.C. Department of Corrections, which included Lorton Reformatory and D.C. Jail. Already, he says, it’s time to “stop throwing stones and come up with solutions.”

Ridley suggests replacing the Bastille-like relic of a jail in Baltimore with a new facility equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance technology to match “the sophistication of the accused” and to watch employees as well as inmates. Institute substantive and continued training specifically geared for those working in urban jails with high turnover rates where it’s hard to keep track of inmates. “The first thing politicians cut is the training budget,” he said.

He also suggests raising the pay scale for corrections officers, a number of whom are women earning on average about $30,000, “most of whom are professional and put their lives on the line every day.” How about better screening of job applicants? That, too.

But instances of guards being involved with inmates “is not a new thing,” he said. He cited poor management and wondered if standard practices were in place that could have helped prevent this case.

“Running a jail is not like running a prison,” said Ridley. “You have to check and inspect, inspect and check constantly.” Most important, employ a “walk-around management style.” Ridley said, “I bet $1,000 that the [jail] managers were not walking around the [Baltimore] jail; they were at their desks sitting on their butts.”

When he ran the D.C. Jail, he said, he and his managers walked around talking to guards and inmates and did their paperwork at night. “If you walk around the jail and something is going on, sooner or later somebody is going to tell it.” That’s why, he added, “there’s no reason they should not have known there were problems.”

Ridley said he felt “hurt and pain” for Gary Maynard, secretary of Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, who, he said, enjoyed a good reputation in correction circles. Ridley said, “Even though Maynard took the weight, which is all well and good, some other heads should roll.” He defended Maynard, noting that as an administrator who must deal with policy and administration, “he can’t be down there running the jail every day. His people let him down.” He said, “I know from experience.”

The public’s safety was jeopardized by such widespread corruption, he said. Those who fell down on the job, not only let Maynard down, “they let the whole state of Maryland down.”

Who does that?

Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at editor@afro.com.

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Baltimore's Bastille Needs Expert Teardown

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