When former corrections officer Lt. Melvin Easley toured the closed Baltimore City Men’s Detention Center recently, he was struck by the silence. The last inmates were relocated in August, and an eerie quiet had settled over the decrepit facility. No more hollering, as inmates tried to communicate across different sections, no more chatter from prisoners or guards, no more keys clanging, grills slamming, whistles blowing or heaters rattling.
The old Baltimore City Jail, which dates back to 1859, was modernized in 1959, but to say it fell far short of today’s standards is an understatement. “Disastrous,” “deplorable,” and a “disgrace” were some of the words used by Governor Larry Hogan when he announced its closure last July. When the state took over the jail in 1991, it was renamed the Baltimore City Detention Center. Sandwiched between the old Gothic penitentiary to the east, now partially used as the Metropolitan Transition Center, and the newer Central Booking and Intake Center to the west, the Detention Center is not visible from the street.
What went on inside was not visible to the public either. The antiquated structure included wooden septic tanks, broken plumbing, mold and rodent, roach and black fly infestations. Conditions were inhumane for inmates, and the outmoded layout put the staff in harm’s way. What did come to light in 2013 was a major racketeering and drug smuggling conspiracy tied to the Black Guerilla Family gang. The scandal led to 40 convictions, including not only inmates, but also two-dozen corrections officers.
Perhaps Lt. Easley, now the public information officer for the Division of Pretrial and Detention Services, had all of this degradation in mind when he remarked that for the first time, a sense of calm pervades the decaying jail. For Easley, the relationships built with coworkers over the years felt like a family. Closing the facility was bittersweet, Easley said, but he understood “that this was the best decision.”
Timeline: Baltimore City Detention Center
The jail, through the years
An “improved” Baltimore City jail: 2013
History of the Baltimore City jail troubles
The Black Guerrilla Family turned Baltimore’s jail into a ‘stronghold,’ investigators say