For the inmates at old City Jail, hard time is here 'Serious business' begins with end to lax practices

December 20, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

LaMont W. Flanagan wants the inmates in his care at the Baltimore City Detention Center to know that life won't be like it was at the old City Jail.

"This is a penal institution. This is not a social services agency, nor is it a disco," said Mr. Flanagan, the state official who has been in charge of bringing the jail into the state penal system. "There is no party atmosphere here," he said. "It is all serious business."

Before the state took over the jail from the city in July, stories circulated about inmates virtually controlling entire sections. Security was lax. Records could not be found. The monthslong backup for administrative hearings made it seem that lawlessness within the 2,800 inmate jail went unpunished.

No more, Mr. Flanagan said yesterday.

"We are establishing order here and sending a strong message that we are taking control of this institution," said Mr. Flanagan, commissioner of pretrial detention and services. "As you well know, the jail had a history of disruption, erroneous releases and escapes."

To demonstrate his point, Mr. Flanagan led reporters on a tour of the segregation unit, the newest part of the jail's new order. The unit has room for 60 inmates, who stay for periods of 30, 60 or 90 days. Anyone entering the area is searched, including Mr. Flanagan.

The area is home to the worst inmates and those deemed the highest risk. Anthony Jones, the 18- year-old alleged kingpin of an East Baltimore drug ring, is there, held on $5 million bail.

Though the former City Jail always had a place for its worst inmates, life in the segregation unit of the state-run facility has gotten a bit tougher. In the old days, inmates took their radios, televisions, portable stereos and books with them.

And, Mr. Flanagan said, segregated prisoners had the added benefit of sleeping alone in a 9-by-5-foot cell instead of being crowded two to a cell. Though inmates still sleep alone in segregation, their lives are much more restricted.

They shower three times a week and are allowed visits or phone calls only for legal affairs and family emergencies. Beyond clothing and what is needed for personal hygiene, they have no personal items.

Televisions, radios or portable stereos are forbidden. Reading material is limited to legal tomes or the Bible. Mirrors, a common tool inmates use to see the man in the next cell, or to view the tier, are banned. Except for the one hour they are out their cells each day, their view is of three walls and a row of iron bars.

"This is punishment," Mr. Flanagan said.

The 15 officers assigned here wear body armor and are specially trained to deal with inmates who think nothing of throwing feces or urine in a man's face, or ramming a shank into his body. The officers have helped add a new feel to the jail, said Capt. Darryl Clay, who organized the new unit.

And, Mr. Flanagan said, word is getting out. The jail is getting tougher, and segregation is a hard place to do time. "They quite often tell their fellow inmates that it is a place that you do not want to go to," he said. "If there was a party atmosphere here, we've become the party poopers."

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