As they scrub away at the stains of grape Kool-Aid, perhaps the inmate workers of Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center hear the unlikely voice of Lady Macbeth in their heads -- lamenting truly damnable spots, wondering, "What, will these floors ne'er be clean?"
But no matter how much industrial-strength cleaner is faithfully sloshed onto the unforgiving surface, the floors of the booking center that opened seven months ago won't give up their grime.
"We cannot remove the spots in the normal course of our cleaning routine and protocols," said LaMont W. Flanagan, who as commissioner of pretrial detention and services oversees the booking center at East Madison Street and Fallsway. "We clean them three times a day. We make every effort to keep them clean."
Those who favor harsh punishment for prisoners might find a silver lining in the problem, because inmates are assigned the Sisyphean cleaning task.
In a place as advanced as the booking center -- where hand-held computers, electronic fingerprinting and digitized mug shots are taking the processing of the 70,000 arrests in Baltimore each year into the 21st century -- the floors might seem like an afterthought.
But as with any part of a jail, construction requires care. Safety becomes extremely important -- the floors, designed to keep people from slipping, are made of concrete and coated with epoxy mixed with sand. That's what becomes difficult to clean. Tile is out -- inmates might tear it up.
In a jail, where conditions aren't necessarily meant to be immaculate, it's a little thing. But the floor problem puzzles some visitors, who can't understand why such a new building already seems so dirty, and frustrates some jail officials eager to show off their new high-tech facility.
Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell recently took a surprise tour of the booking center. State officials invited him to do so because he presides over a lawsuit against the center filed on behalf of detainees who said they were forced to wait in crowded and filthy cells hours after they should have been released.
Mitchell said this week that, yes, he noticed the floors.
"The floors were far less than clean," the judge said. "I would say they were unsightly. I will not say unsanitary. But the center is attempting to address the problem."
For about 150,000 square feet of floor -- with most of it the resolutely spotty surface -- the cost was about $750,000 of the $56 million building, estimated Russell Kness of Smeallie Orrick & Janka of Baltimore, which helped design the booking center.
"It is a matter of stains," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which runs the center. "They can't get the spots up, but there is not an issue of sanitation."
But Kness said the floors can be cleaned if it's done correctly. "They're not scrubbing it right," he said of the booking center inmates. "It's just a little bit of work to doing it.
"They have inmates cleaning this stuff. You can imagine the effort that goes into it. They could hand out a bunch of stiff-bristle brushes to these guys."
Kness said the best way to get the place spick-and-span is to use a small cleaning machine, which booking center Warden Alfred I. Murphy plans to lease. (As for the stiff-bristle brushes, Murphy said they wear out quickly.)
State officials can take heart in the fact that their floors are not the first to cling to dirt. When Baltimore County built an annex to its detention center in Towson two years ago, the problem wasn't noticed until after the floor was installed and workers tried to clean it, and clean it, and clean it again.
"We have really found nothing that really cleans them," said James M. Dean, administrator of the county detention center. "In a section where we had renovations done, we put an extra coat of sealer on it. That area is fine."
With all of the challenges facing the criminal justice system -- from crowding to probation violators and drug offenders -- why should clean floors be a concern?
"One of my lieutenants has always said a clean jail is a happy jail," Dean said. "I do not want my jail in a dirty and unkempt condition."
Pub Date: 7/11/96