Photo above: Gov. Larry Hogan and Public Safety Secretary Stephen Moyer at the Baltimore City Detention Center Thursday.
By Len Lazarick
Gov. Larry Hogan’s performance in Baltimore Thursday evoked memories of William Donald Schaefer, the legendary “Do it now” mayor and governor, as Hogan announced the immediate closing of the Baltimore City Detention Center.
Hogan’s large bald head from his chemotherapy added to the impression, but it was more the tone, attitude and approach that was Schaeferesque: impatient, angry, concerned with the people affected, and denigrating those other politicians who couldn’t get the job done.
“Frankly I cannot understand why this action did not happens years ago,” Hogan said, calling it “one of the biggest failures of leadership in the history of Maryland.”
“The Baltimore City Detention Center has been a black eye for our state for too long,” he said, perhaps “the worst prison in America,” a jail run by inmate gangs that became a “late night talk show punch line.”
Hogan piled derision piled on top of criticism: “Dangerous not only for workers, but the individuals housed here,” “structurally unfit,” “a disgrace and its conditions are horrendous,” “shameful,” “a disaster,” “an embarrassment,” “literally falling apart.”
“We promised to clean up state government and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Hogan said. And we’re saving money too, $10-15 million a year.
All the while Hogan and Public Safety Secretary Stephen Moyer were talking to reporters, prisoners were calling out from the decaying jail cells above. Most of the shouting was unintelligible from the distance, but in one shout that could be heard, an inmate cried out, “I need help.”
No consultation with legislators
Did Hogan consult with other leaders in Annapolis or Baltimore, asked a reporter? Hell no, “we wanted to make sure to make this decision before it was being interfered with by politics,” Hogan said, at the same time lambasting “the previous governor” for not doing it. (That “previous governor,” Martin O’Malley, himself dramatically closed the equally antique House of Corrections in Jessup in the first months of his first term after a correctional officer was killed there.)
A half-hour before the announcement in the bowels of the antique jail, the co-chairs of the legislative commission that studied the jail in 2013 issued a scathing statement.
“We were disappointed to receive notice of Governor Hogan’s plans through the media,” said Sens. James Ed DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, and Guy Guzzone, D-Howard. “Consistently, the Governor has circumvented the Legislature rather than working together to find bipartisan and consensus-driven solutions. Our bipartisan commission spent long hours reviewing the facility needs of BCDC in order to develop a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the facility, and would have been able to provide input into this process.
“It is unfortunate and disappointing that the Governor is making large scale decisions behind closed doors and without input of others. .. We urge him to live up to his commitments of bipartisanship and transparency, and to work with the Legislature, local leaders, and members of the public in making decisions, instead of continuously making unilateral decisions without input, context of long-term problems, or transparency.”
What about the 10-year plan to replace the jail legislators had recommended, Luke Broadwater from the Sun asked Hogan?
“We thought it could be done more expeditiously,” said Hogan. “I never even looked at the General Assembly’s 10-year plan.”
Union notified late
Leaders of the union that represents more than 1,000 workers at the jail — the state said it was 772 — said its contract called for consultation as well. But it wasn’t told about the plan till Thursday morning.
“They should have been notified and they weren’t notified,” said AFSCME executive director Glen Middleton.
On the other hand, Middleton, who worked 17 years at the jail, didn’t disagree with closing the decrepit facility.
“This place is unsafe, it’s insecure,” he said.
Was Hogan going to try to turn running the jail back to the city, a reporter asked? “Not at this time,” but they haven’t decided on other further action. But why this was the only city jail in the country run by the state was still a puzzlement to Hogan.
What will replace the jail, as prisoners are sent to other state facilities? They’re not sure for now. Those decisions will come later.
“This facility should have been closed years ago,” Hogan repeated.
“Do it now,” as William Donald Schaefer might have said, and deal with those pesky legislators and unions later.