Poor Start at City Jail

July 25, 1991

State officials have gotten off to a poor start in their takeover of the Baltimore City Jail. The summary firing of several longtime jail workers has raised questions about vindictive actions by supervisors and a state corrections department insensitive to the plight of the jail's 850 employees whose jobs were placed in limbo when the city relinquished control of the Gothic stone prison.

These dismissed workers were not among the 62 jail employees who flunked or refused to take drug tests. Terminating their employment at the jail is a move that was long overdue. But there is no excuse for the other abrupt dismissals. No reasons for the firings were given by supervisors. In the two weeks since the state took over the jail, none of these administrative workers had done anything to warrant punitive action. All these harsh removals do is reenforce the feeling among state workers that nTC the Schaefer administration is anti-worker. We do not believe that is so, but unless Gov. William Donald Schaefer reverses the premature firings at the City Jail, that impression will persist.

All city jail workers will be on probationary status for the next six months, giving corrections officials plenty of time to evaluate carefully the performance of every employee and then make a decision on which ones should be terminated. That is only fair. Mr. Schaefer should insist that this process be followed.

The city jail remains overcrowded and in poor physical condition. State corrections officials have plans to renovate the antiquated kitchen that serves 10,000 meals a day, improve security and identification procedures, increase pretrial services for inmates and construct a central booking facility and a long-delayed jail expansion to relieve overcrowding and eliminate district lock-ups city police stations.

It is a formidable task. Alienating the existing work force only makes the state's task more difficult. The re-named Baltimore City Detention Center may yet serve as a model pretrial detention program if the governor and legislature are committed to this expensive undertaking. The initial weeks of this undertaking, though, have not been auspicious.

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