Prison Gangsters

Our View: Efforts To Thwart Gang Activity In Maryland Prisons Must Be Paired With Tough Sanctions Against Correctional Staff Who Foster Criminal Activities

April 24, 2009

In Maryland's prison system, fraternize with an inmate and you lose your job. But these days, the threat of losing a state job isn't enough to keep some correctional officers from helping gangs continue their deadly trade while imprisoned. Recent federal indictments against members of the notorious Black Guerrilla Family gang detailed the extent of gang activity inside Maryland prisons and the use of correctional officers to facilitate their alleged crimes. The charges against 24 people, including four state prison officers, give fraternization a whole new meaning and reason to seek tougher penalties against rogue guards.

The four correctional officers were accused of helping the Black Guerrillas carry out drug deals, demand protection money, collect it through prepaid credit cards - and punish those who fail to deliver. Smuggled cigarettes, bootleg alcohol and girlie magazines have been replaced by shots of brand-name vodka, crab imperial and slabs of salmon, cell phones, fine cigars and sex, as reflected in the investigation of the Black Guerrilla Family.

What's deeply troubling about the allegations in this case is the extent of the crimes alleged and the reason for them - to better position the gang in the drug trade on Baltimore's streets. Carrying out criminal activity from behind prison walls can't be done without the help of prison staff - or its indifference. Of the 71 correctional officers fired since 2006, 39 were dismissed for fraternizing with inmates, state officials say. They represent less than 1 percent of the state's 6,500 correctional officers, but those corrupt guards increase the risks for the men and women in uniform who are doing their jobs honestly and bravely.

State public safety chief Gary Maynard has put a priority on gathering intelligence on gang members among the state's 22,000 prisoners, and he has hired an analyst to cull through the data. Investigators estimate there are about 2,400 gang members inside. Methods to identify suspect activity have become more sophisticated. A wiretap on a prison cell phone was critical in the Black Guerrilla case. But there should be no leniency for correctional officers involved in these activities.

Termination is the least of it. Correctional staff convicted of helping inmates operate a criminal enterprise should face tough sanctions. Prison sentences for corrupt guards may be the ultimate punishment, but state officials should explore revoking their state pensions as well. They don't deserve them.

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