Correctional officers’ “bill of rights” and the Baltimore jail scandal

by Walter Olson on May 6, 2013

Last month 13 guards and 12 others were indicted on charges of letting a gang effectively take over management of the Baltimore City Detention Center; according to the indictment, corrupt guards allegedly smuggled in drugs, cellphones and other contraband and had sex with the gang leader, several becoming pregnant by him. Since then the public and press has been asking what went wrong. A Washington Post editorial suggests one place they might look:

The absurd situation described in the indictment took root at least partly because of a “bill of rights” for corrections officers, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and enacted by the Maryland legislature in 2010 at the behest of the guards union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. This bill of rights grants extraordinary protections to guards, including shielding them from threats of prosecution, transfer, dismissal or even disciplinary action during questioning for suspected wrongdoing.

While Gov. O’Malley has sought to minimize the relevance of the 2010 law, the Post notes that FBI recordings suggest that a guard who was deemed “dirty” was transferred to another facility, rather than fired — transfers-instead-of-firing being a less than optimal way of dealing with public employee corruption, but one typical of systems with strong tenure entrenchment. AFSCME, which boasted at the time of its “relentless lobbying” on behalf of the law, is now doing damage control. More: “those protections left officers at the jail without fear of sanctions for allegedly smuggling contraband or having relationships with inmates, the FBI said in an affidavit.” [Baltimore Sun] Union-allied lawmakers defend the measure [AP]

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Maryland roundup - Overlawyered
05.20.13 at 1:45 pm

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1 Ron Miller 05.08.13 at 2:54 pm

Obviously, if a guard says, “I was transferred because I’m dirty” something is wrong with the system.

2 Ben 05.08.13 at 9:03 pm

Second, in the wake of these deeply troubling indictments some have questioned if women should be able to serve as Correctional Officers in situations where they monitor male inmates. There should be no discrimination against women in consideration for any job. It goes without question that women are just as equally qualified as men to serve.

My boldface. I also like the phrase, “just as equally qualified,” that could be a beautiful euphemism.

3 Ron Miller 05.09.13 at 10:13 am

I think it is important we don’t misunderstand the problem here. The problem was not female guards. It was guards that were breaking the law.

Now, I think we have to acknowledge their are some weaknesses specific to female guards just as there are some weaknesses in male employee in many professions, including, I’m sure, prison guards.

4 Ben 05.09.13 at 10:28 pm

“The problem was not female guards. It was guards that were breaking the law.”

All 13 guards who have been indicted were female, describing the problem as “female guards” is entirely factual and relevant to understanding it.

“Now, I think we have to acknowledge their are some weaknesses specific to female guards just as there are some weaknesses in male employee in many professions”

Human sexuality is not a weakness or a deficiency, but it is a powerful factor in governing social behavior. There probably are ways to create a structure that can allow women to reach their potential, but the present climate won’t allow the frank discussions needed to find those solutions.

What’s going to happen instead is that bureaucracies will deal with it by pushing women into dead-end administrative positions. The irony is that rigid adherence to feminist dogma is creating the real glass ceiling.

5 Ron Miller 05.10.13 at 3:06 pm

Ben, no one suggest you cannot describe the guards as female. Still the problem was not female guards. It was guards that broke the law. Both statements are mutually inclusive.

No one said we can’t have a discussion about it. Female guards are more vulnerable in prisons in some ways. (It is a weakness, actually.) They are also less likely to physically abuse inmates, not just because of their physicality but because women are less violent in general. We need to be careful that male guards are not bashing heads and we need to keep in mind that female guards are more susceptible to being taken advantage of by inmates. There is no reason not to acknowledge the sexual differences and their is no reason to ban female guards.

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