Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has announced plans to immediately shut down a "deplorable" Baltimore jail that was the focus of a federal corruption investigation.
Hogan said at a press conference Thursday the state would save $10 million to $15 million a year by closing the Baltimore City Detention Center, which houses hundreds of inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences.
Current employees and inmates will be reassigned to other facilities.
"There is plenty of capacity in the system," Hogan said. For that reason, it "makes no sense to keep their deplorable facility" operating. For security reasons, the destinations of the inmates will not be disclosed.
The jail grabbed headlines in 2013 after a sweeping federal indictment exposed a sophisticated drug- and cellphone-smuggling ring involving dozens of gang members and correctional officers. The investigation also exposed sexual relations between jailhouse gang leader Tavon White and female guards that left four of them pregnant.
Forty of the 44 defendants charged in the racketeering conspiracy have been convicted, including 24 correctional officers. Thirty-five defendants pleaded guilty; eight defendants went to trial and one defendant has died. For his part, White pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The ACLU and the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center last month called on a federal judge to reopen a lawsuit against the state of Maryland over what the agencies described as substandard conditions.
According to the lawsuit, the jail's medical and mental health care possibly played a role in the death of seven inmates over the last couple of years. The groups allege inmates suffering from illnesses such as HIV and diabetes were denied life-sustaining prescription medication. The filing also described moldy showers, cells infested with mice and cockroaches, poor ventilation and broken toilets.
The agencies also said the state failed to cure systemic problems, despite entering into a 2007 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
In response, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen Moyer said he was committed to changes. He noted the state has spent more than $58 million over the past 10 years to improve the safety and security of inmates and staff.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said closing the facility would be a positive step, though he expressed concern about how hundreds of inmates would be transferred.
"Given the jail's history of dysfunction we're concerned about implementation, where the prisoners will go and if that will generate crowding in other facilities," Fathi said. "We've consistently seen problems that when detainees are transferred from one facility to another, the ball often gets dropped with regard to their health care, sometimes with serious consequences.''
The state has run the jail since 1991 and says it is one of the largest municipal jails in the U.S. Portions of the complex date to 1859.
The ACLU released a statement expressing its relief that the jail will be closed but noting the remaining issues at other Maryland facilities.
"Because of these conditions, detainees in the jail complex have suffered unnecessarily and endured permanent harm that could have been prevented," David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project said. "That is inhumane. The state of Maryland must provide safe housing and adequate health care to detainees."