By Ilana Kowarski
Maryland House Republicans were surprisingly complimentary of Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard at a Thursday news conference about the pervasive gang activity in state prisons revealed in a federal indictment of 13 correctional officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
The Republicans described the secretary as a reformer whose efforts had been thwarted by the inaction of others, and said that they admired his willingness to uncover corruption.
Del. John Cluster Jr., a former Baltimore County cop, said that it was likely Maynard’s call for a federal investigation of Maryland prisons that brought about the revelation that some of the state’s correctional officers are affiliated with gang members.
Maynard ‘did the right thing’
Cluster argued that the public had been too quick to castigate Maynard. “If Maynard did what he says he did, then he did the right thing,” Cluster said.
This Republican defense of the secretary is notable given that conservative pundits across the country have been calling for his resignation.
Fox talk show host Bill O’Reilly went even further, demanding that Maynard be fired. “He should have resigned anyway,” O’Reilly said in an April 26 broadcast. “In Japan, he probably would have to commit suicide."
But Maryland’s House Republicans sounded a very different tune. They emphasized that Maynard has consistently supported prison reform and said that he has supported Republican proposals to punish lawbreaking in jails.
Republicans to meet with Maynard at jail
In a press release, Republican delegates announced that they plan to meet with Maynard Friday at the detention center so they can discuss solutions to the problems exposed by the federal investigation of the state corrections facilities.
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, Anne Arundel, placed the blame for the prison’s gang culture squarely on the shoulders of Gov. Martin O’Malley and other Democratic leaders who he says are too soft on crime.
Kipke said that the O’Malley administration should have cracked down on prison corruption by imposing harsh criminal penalties on those who smuggle drugs and cell phones into jail.
Proposals to stiffen penalties
In the past, prisoners have used cell phones to order hits and to organize other criminal enterprises, so Republicans have
repeatedly introduced legislation that would extend the sentences of prisoners caught with contraband and make prison smuggling a felony, but these proposals have never gained traction.
Some Democrats opposed these policies on the grounds that the possession of a cell phone was not a severe enough offense to warrant a felony conviction. A few expressed concern that prisoners convicted of these offenses would have a hard time reintegrating into society if they were classified as felons.
Del. Curtis Anderson, D- Baltimore City, recently told the Washington Post that “felonies are usually reserved for the most serious of crimes” and that he did not think that possession of prison contraband properly qualified as a felony.
Deferring to ‘the criminal element’
Kipke dismissed this argument, saying that Democrats were showing too much deference to “the criminal element” and not enough regard for law-abiding citizens.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron George accused Gov. O’Malley of “choosing corruption over reform,” but O’Malley countered these charges in a written rebuttal.
“We have zero tolerance for corruption,” O’Malley said. “When members of murder networks are behind bars, the public has every right to expect that they will be prevented from committing further crimes.”
O’Malley said that he supported laws making it a felony for prisoners to possess cell phones in jail, that his administration was determined to root out prison corruption, and that he was taking action against those involved in the crimes revealed by the federal investigation of Baltimore City correction facilities.