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Maryland Governor To Close Baltimore City Jail, Calling It ‘The Worst Prison In America’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, second from right, arrives at Baltimore City Detention Center, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Baltimore, before speaking at a news conference to announce his plan to immediately shut down the jail. 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. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PATRICK SEMANSKY
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, second from right, arrives at Baltimore City Detention Center, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Baltimore, before speaking at a news conference to announce his plan to immediately shut down the jail. 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. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PATRICK SEMANSKY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Thursday he has ordered the immediate closure of the Baltimore City Men’s Detention Center, saying the “disaster of a facility” has seen rampant corruption and is an “embarrassment to our state.”

“The practice of continuously dumping hard-earned taxpayer money into this disastrous facility will not continue under my watch,” Hogan said in a press conference held outside the prison Thursday afternoon.

He said the city will be moving the 1,092 male inmates to other facilities and possibly tearing down the pre-Civil War building that is “literally falling apart.” The facility, located east of downtown Baltimore, is currently the only city prison in the country that is run by a state government.

While talking about the history of the prison, Hogan described the gang violence that has been rampant in the facility, saying “inmates were literally running this prison” with the help of a number of employees entangled in the corruption. According to the Baltimore Sun, federal and state authorities announced dozens of indictments in 2013 against both inmates and corrections officers involved in corruption orchestrated by the Black Guerilla Family gang.

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Inmates in the facility were not getting the medical attention they needed due to inadequate conditions, Hogan said. Inmates frequently have their medications interrupted when they are transferred from one part of the facility to another.

He also said the building has structural deficiencies which create “deplorable” conditions for the inmates and employees. Baltimore Deputy District Public Defender Natalie Finegar told ThinkProgress that flooding and mold issues recently forced her and her colleagues to close one of their offices in the facility. They now operate out of just one office in the detention center’s pre-trial facilities.

“That building has a lot of substantial infrastructure problems that I’ve been able to witness in terms of persistent flooding and frequent heat and lack of air conditioning issues,” she said. “It’s just really run down and rather disgusting.”

Finegar called the area in which her office conducts attorney visits “appalling,” but said the conditions are worse for the inmates held in the facility.

“The general dirtiness of the building has been a concern for us when dealing with clients that might have some immunity issues or might have like an open wound or something like that,” she said.

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Although she supports moving inmates out the crumbling building, she said she has concerns with Hogan’s plans. She doesn’t think it’s appropriate for any of her clients to continue living in the facility, but she worries about what will happen because the city has not yet announced the plan. The inmates’ health conditions and access to their attorneys must be considered, she said.

In his press conference, Hogan also criticized the state assembly in Annapolis and former Gov. Martin O’Malley for not taking action to close the facility sooner. In 2013, a state legislative committee proposed a ten year plan to replace the facilities and the first phase for a new youth detention facility was recently approved.

But the American Civil Liberties Union had been fighting the lengthy plan, asking the courts to reopen a lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional conditions in the Men’s Detention Center and three other facilities in the city. One of those facilities, Central Booking, is where protesters were housed for days without food and before charges were brought in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death.

“We are relieved that Baltimore detainees will no longer be forced to live in the Men’s Detention Center, a building that should have been condemned decades ago,” David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in a statement. “This critical step, though, will have no impact on the dangerous physical conditions and shockingly deficient medical and mental health care in the jail facilities that will remain open.”

While Finegar said the closing of the Detention Center is a step in the right direction, more action has to be taken to fix the greater problems persistent in Baltimore’s jails. The facility being shuttered currently holds 145 men awaiting trial, highlighting a larger issue across Baltimore City.

“We probably wouldn’t be in such a critical juncture if we had more reasonable bail decisions in Baltimore,” she said. “Baltimore City has the highest bail decisions with some of the least resourced citizens. So that‘s a concern that isn’t being addressed by this plan — who should be in jail pre-trial? What we have is overincarceration in Baltimore with some of the highest bails in the state, so there’s a lot that can be done short of a new jail that would alleviate some of those problems.”