Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is standing by his prisons secretary after 13 correctional officers were indicted last week, but the state’s comptroller is worried that problems have been festering in the state’s prison system for years.
O’Malley told reporters Tuesday that Gary D. Maynard, the state secretary of public safety and correctional services, is “one of the best public safety secretaries in the entire nation,” and that Maynard’s work with federal investigators to crack down on prison gangs is what led to the indictments.
Federal prosecutors allege that the Baltimore City Detention Center officers aided leaders of the Black Guerrilla Family gang in running a criminal organization from behind bars by smuggling drugs, cell phones and other items into the jail. One inmate, Tavon White, impregnated four of the officers, according to the indictment.
The officers have been suspended without pay.
But a separate incident, dating from 2007, discussed at the state Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, suggested the problem of officers with ties to gangs has existed for years without being properly addressed, Comptroller Peter Franchot said.
The board discussed a $40,000 settlement for a former inmate who was attacked multiple times while incarcerated. The case implicated a former correctional officer — believed to have ties to a gang — who reportedly enabled one of the attacks by giving another prisoner to key to his restraints.
Franchot said an internal memo from 2006 — before the attacks and before Maynard was appointed — had warned of the officer’s possible membership in the gang. Maynard told the board the memo never reached him.
“Even though it occurred six years ago and under different leadership, clearly there was some rot in the department of public safety and it was never corrected,” Franchot said. “The underlying issue that made something like this possible has never really gone away.”
The board subsequently approved the settlement. Franchot, who argued that taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill, voted against the settlement.
Maynard used the board’s discussion of the lawsuit to enumerate improvements made to the state’s prison system since his appointment in 2007, including a nearly 50 percent reduction in inmate attacks on other inmates and a 65 percent reduction in inmate attacks on prison staff and the formation of a task force on prison gangs.
“The recent indictments are the direct result of efforts made by our department over the last three years and the formation of this task force,” Maynard said.
Since 2010, the department has rooted out 89 correctional officers who were fraternizing with prisoners or smuggling items into jails; some of those officers were fired, others were allowed to retire before termination, he said.
Lawmakers have called for a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the state’s prison system. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to have a hearing on the Baltimore City Detention Center on May 8.
Critics, including Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly and Change Maryland Chairman Larry Hogan, have called on O’Malley to fire Maynard.
O’Malley said Tuesday that there will be changes and improvements to prison procedures as well as the vetting and background checks of correctional officers, and doubled-down on his support of Maynard’s efforts at Wednesday’s meeting.
“You have my full backing,” he told Maynard. “Do not relent and do not let up for any reason, whatsoever.”