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What the Data Didn’t Show

Martin O’Malley’s vaunted management techniques missed the massive corruption in the Baltimore jail.

Jun 3, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 36 • By KATE HAVARD
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This latest meltdown in a Baltimore jail is only one of many failures. But the idea that there’s a way to harness technology to cure government incompetence remains alluring. In May, O’Malley showed up on the cover of Washington Monthly, styled “the best manager working in government today” for his ability “to actually make the bureaucracy work.”

But as the corrections scandal shows, the power of StateStat is but a tale told by Martin O’Malley, full of pomp and PowerPoint, signifying not very much.

You didn’t need Big Data to know that the corrections department was a mess, a former employee said: All you had to do is walk down the halls of BCDC and smell the corruption.

The former BCDC officer, who asked not to be identified, described life inside the jail: “It was very medieval, very dark. Every day you’re walking down dark hallways like you’re in a dangerous projects neighborhood, inmates crawling all over the walls, everything smelling like marijuana, always.” With drugs, he said, “You could launch a search but they’d just flush it.”

When it came to sex between inmates and guards, he said, a common rendezvous point was the BCDC gym, where a corrections officer could lock herself in with the inmate.

Corruption was rampant. Inmates dined on “shrimp, crab, whatever they wanted,” he said. But there was little point to complaining. “You’d file a report and the assistant warden would tell you they lost the packet. You couldn’t call the confidential reporting line they give us, because it’s been broken for years. You call it, every day your car would get a little bit vandalized, one day a broken window, then maybe a radio, you know, just enough so it wouldn’t meet your deductible but you’d know they were there.”

Eventually he couldn’t take it anymore. “I went back in the Army,” he said. “It was safer for me to go to Afghanistan than to stay there.”

In the wake of the scandal, O’Malley has promised a thorough investigation. But behind closed doors, O’Malley officials seem more interested in making the story go away than in cleaning up the mess.

After the indictments came out, the Maryland House Judiciary Committee quickly called for a hearing with top corrections officials to assess the problem (and, frankly, to grill Secretary Maynard).

A few days before the hearing took place, it was suddenly canceled. According to WBAL-TV, Stacy Mayer, the governor’s chief legislative officer, showed up at a meeting between Maynard and several members of the committee and discouraged lawmakers from holding a hearing.

When it was finally rescheduled, it had been taken away from the Judiciary Committee (whose members are notoriously sharp-tongued) and put before a friendlier Legislative Policy Committee, where problems will be divvied up and task-forced into obscurity.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections has been trying its hand at press intimidation.

On May 10, Republican lawmakers were given a tour of BCDC. Although requests from multiple outlets to see inside the jail had been denied, I accompanied the lawmakers to Baltimore, hoping to snag a spot on an already scheduled tour. A corrections official (a five-year veteran of O’Malley’s office who transferred to the department six months ago) greeted me outside the jail and told me I would not be allowed to join them. If I wanted to appeal, I should contact communications director Rick Binetti.

On the phone, Binetti (a veteran of O’Malley’s mayoral office) accused me of plotting a “sneak attack” on the jail. I was “wasting my time with these ridiculous requests,” he said, and should stop asking. “Is my message clear?”

Crystal! The department of corrections has a bad attitude—and something to hide.
After their tour, delegates described an “ancient” facility, parts of which were constructed during the Civil War. Delegate Michael Smigiel (R-Cecil) said that corrections staff joked with lawmakers about sprucing the place up for the tour. He said that inside, the jail smelled like “feces—and fresh paint.”

So while the BCDC was becoming, in the words of one Baltimore Sun reporter, “a filthy sex dungeon,” where was StateStat?

The department of corrections’ most recent StateStat report does take note of cell phone seizures—but there’s no indication that the numbers are fluctuating because the guards are smuggling them in.

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