Baltimore made national news last week when federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging that the inmates were running the city Detention Center. According to the indictment, the Black Guerrilla Family gang ran a smuggling operation that dealt in marijuana, prescription pills and cell phones with the help of correctional officers, four of whom were impregnated by the ring leader, Tavon White. WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden caught up with U-S Attorney Rod Rosenstein who led the investigation.
The Black Guerilla Family—or BGF—has been on Rod Rosenstein’s radar for years.
"It was our investigation of gangs on the streets that lead to the prisons. We had a series of gang cases. In the course of our investigation we put up a wire-tap and learned that there were people behind bars running criminal organizations."
The jails, Rosenstein says, are filled with criminals with nothing but time on their hands to launch new plots – and in this case, the local jail was close to the streets they ran. Though inmates may have ties to other inmates, or the guards, Rosenstein says none of the guards were gang members, but were recruited while they were on the job.
"The inmates were told that they should identify officers who are vulnerable and insecure and more likely to fall to the gang members and then target those correction officers and then seduce them and convince them to get in league with gang members."
All thirteen of the correctional officers were women. But Rosenstein says it’s wrong to think that the problem here was hiring women as correctional officers for male inmates.
"I think it’s wrong to say that women shouldn’t be there. That’s the wrong message to take. The takeaway here is that there shouldn’t be people who are vulnerable to the gang’s persuasion."
That raises the question of how correctional officers are hired: How are the applicants vetted and screened? But, Rosenstein says there’s more to it.
"It’s not just about recruiting and training properly. But also there should be ongoing monitoring of these employees. People don’t appreciate how stressful it is to work in this environment."
Archer Blackwell, of AFSCME Council 67, which represents the employees, said correctional officers must have mental toughness and that new officers should be involved in a mentoring program with senior officers. Most of the women indicted had been working a correctional officers for less than five years.
According to Rosenstein, the environment at the detention center is not what you might expect.
"On the inside it’s not people locked up in little cells all the time. It’s like a campus. They have some freedom of movement during the day – the inmates are locked in 24 hours a day and guards are locked in for 8 hour shifts. They have a lot of contact."
And it’s not as if the detention center is an island all to itself, Rosenstein adds.
You have food and medical supplies coming into the prison all day.
Preventing contraband is a significant challenge to public safety officials, he adds, but more must be done.
"Make sure there’s a significant deterrent if they get caught – one of the allegation in the affidavit – these officers didn’t believe they were going to face punishment if they were caught. We need to change that."
The investigation began in the Spring of 2012, but the indictment spans back to 2009. Rosenstein says he’s been working with the department of public safety on a task force for the past two years. He and Secretary of Public Safety Gary Maynard have been collaborating.
"Maynard and dept of public safety brought to our attention what they think are the vulnerabilities in the system. And we’ve been working to identify the vulnerabilities."
Whatever Blackwell says about how most of the correctional officers are good guys.
I’m Mary rose Madden, reporting in Baltimore for 88.1, WYPR.