Baltimore’s scandal-plagued jail will be shut down immediately, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said on Thursday, calling the pre-Civil War site and its gang-related corruption “a disgrace.”
Hogan said leaking roofs, flooding, inhumane conditions and a dangerous environment for guards and inmates meant the men’s section of the Baltimore City Detention Center had to be closed.
“Frankly, the Baltimore City Detention Center is a disgrace and its conditions are horrendous,” Hogan, a Republican, told a news conference at the jail.
The 750 male prisoners will be transferred to other sites in the city and in nearby jurisdictions, said Hogan, who was joined by state Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen Moyer.
The news conference was marked by inmates yelling at Hogan from windows. One man shouted, “Help me, help me,” prompting guards to rush over to quiet him.
Shuttering the jail comes as the criminal justice system in Baltimore is under scrutiny following the April death of a black man, Freddie Gray, from injuries suffered in police custody. Gray’s death sparked protests and rioting in the city, and six officers have been charged in the case.
The jail, a complex of a dozen buildings, dates from the 1850s, and repairs over the past five years have cost more than $10 million, Hogan’s office said in a statement. Maryland took over control of the jail from the city in the 1990s.
In 2013, federal and state authorities announced dozens of indictments of inmates and guards over alleged corruption directed by the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
Dozens of the 44 defendants have been convicted. Investigators found that a drug-dealing gang leader had impregnated four guards while being held there.
After the indictments, a state legislative panel backed a plan to raze the jail and rebuild it. In May, the state Board of Public Works approved a $30 million plan for a new, 60-bed youth jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Justice Center, an activist group, asked a federal judge last month to reopen a lawsuit against Maryland over conditions at the jail. Seven inmates have died in the past 2-1/2 years, possibly due to lack of medical care, the motion said.
Public Justice Center Legal Director Debra Gardner said closing the jail is a welcome step but would not improve health and medical care at other Baltimore detention sites.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Will Dunham)