Baltimore City Jail: Worse Than Ever

More than two years have passed since federal prosecutors handed down a massive indictment charging gang members and correctional officers with operating a drug conspiracy inside the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC). The story gained national media attention and the U.S. Attorney’s Office trumpeted its success in getting convictions of all but a few of the defendants. Finally, we were told, something was being done about the problems within BCDC.

But did the federal intervention make conditions at BCDC any better? I have discussed this with several people who know from first-hand experience. Their response is that BCDC has only gotten worse – if not much worse – since the Feds cracked down. From what I have heard, this initiative has been about as successful as the “war on drugs.” That is, it has been a dismal failure.

In the wake of the federal intervention, BCDC is more under the control of gangs than it has ever been. There is a saying there that when one gang member falls (i.e. gets sent away to federal prison for a long term), a thousand rise up.

Gang members thoroughly control the things that are most important at BCDC: phone use, commissary accounts, seating at the dining area, and security. This control, I am told, is greater than it has ever been.

Meanwhile, non-gang detainees – of which there are few – are living in a constant state of fear. It is not surprising that when a non-gang member enters BCDC he is likely to become extremely motivated to join a gang – for his own safety. The gangs, of course, are happy to recruit new members.

It goes without saying that, inside BCDC, there exist no educational opportunities, no real medical care, no real drug treatment and, essentially, nothing productive for a young man to do. The result of this is scary. BCDC has become an incubator for violence. People come out of BCDC more dangerous than when they entered. Far too often, rather than providing rehabilitation, our system is turning accused offenders into hardened criminals. It is no wonder that defendants plead guilty to crimes they did not commit – if only because it will help them get out of BCDC faster.

This is the foolishness of our criminal justice system at its worst. It does no good to arrest large portions of our city’s population and lock them up in cages like animals. While it is true that some people need to be taken off the streets, those people also have to be rehabilitated. Sadly, this is not happening.