Smith: On prison, everyone knows where the buck stops

May 2, 2013

Governor O’Malley’s suggestion that Baltimore’s prison mess is a good thing has been referred to as a masterpiece of spin. It was not. 

To be a masterpiece, even in the rules-free arena of spin, you have to be diverting at least. Everyone knows or should know that spin happens when people lose debates or elections or find themselves in hot water. At the very least you have to avoid assertions that come across as howlers.

Of course it was good, as the governor said, that the takeover by prisoners was uncovered. State officials had a role in the disclosure. But they were also in charge. Guards and inmates turned the jail into a behind-bars bazaar, dealing in cell phones, drugs and sex. 

The governor would have been better served by adopting tone of corrections chief, Gary Maynard: My bad, he said. I’m in charge. It’s on me. It’s on O’Malley, too, of course. Everyone knows where the buck stops.  

Some observers are ever-eager to bash the governor in hopes of damaging his image as he contemplates a race for President. That effort is now a reflex – somewhat silly in itself. 

He may or may not run, of course. He WILL be governor for two more years. We should all be thinking about the impact of what he does on life in Maryland. Could the struggle to manage prisons, for example, be less painful if the prison population weren’t swollen by so many non-violent, low level offenders? Moves to shrink the population could be explained – without spin.