The now closed Baltimore Men’s Detention Center (Photo credit: James Bentley)

On Jul. 31, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced his plan to close the Baltimore Men’s Detention Center “immediately.” The storied jail, part of several detention centers on the property, was built in 1859 and parts of it have housed everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to the notorious Black Guerilla Family. Activists and politicians have long condemned its deteriorating conditions.

On a recent tour, this reporter entered the jail through the same gate used by those being booked for crimes and traveled up the same ramp to the intake center used by police transporting detainees to and from the jail. Cell phones no longer work once inside the gates because phones are considered contraband.

After going through the Central Booking Facility, the now empty Men’s Detention Center, the Women’s Detention Center, we entered The Pre-Trial Complex, formerly known as the Metropolitan Transition Center. The latter is one of the buildings at the Baltimore City jail that absorbed inmates with the Men’s Detention Center closing. Stephen T. Moyer, state secretary of public safety and correctional services, Wendell Pete France, deputy secretary, and Brenda Shell, commissioner for the division of pre-trial detention and services, led the tour. According to Moyer “No detainees were moved out of Baltimore City. We did move a couple blocks of prison population but no detainees awaiting trial.”

The cell blocks were dark and tight which was only overshadowed by the conditions of the cells. There were rotting floors in the showers, rusted beds and peeling paint throughout the cell block. The cells, made to house two inmates each, were small and filthy.

The men’s housing unit has now been completely closed but there is still administrative work being done there. “It’s obvious why we closed that part of the jail” according to Moyer, “Small hallways, plumbing issues, leaks, I mean there are wooden sanitary pipes under some of these buildings. This building was built on a flood plain, pre-civil war.”

Asked why did it took so long for the situation to be addressed, Moyer said,  “I don’t know… This building needs to go. After the fifth time I came through here I could barely stomach it.”

He added, “Prison isn’t a good place for anybody but people deserve better conditions than what the building offered.”

The Baltimore Men’s Detention Center has a long and storied history dating back to 1859 when it was constructed. Famous author Edgar Allen Poe occupied a cell once. In 1949 “Tunnel Joe” Holmes, serving time for burglary, dug his way to freedom. Most recently the jail was rocked by a corruption scandal following revelations that the facility was being controlled by the Black Guerrilla Family.

In an effort to eliminate corruption and change conditions 253 corrections employees have been arrested since 2013.

The move is still a work in progress. On Aug. 30 a melee in the Pre-Trial Complex left eight correctional officers and six detainees injured. Two of the affected dormitories remained on lockdown the following day as officers tried to separate the individuals responsible for the disturbance.