Under Maynard, prisons have crises, but fewer repeat offenders
08/10/2013
The Baltimore Sun

View Clip

Any other week, the guilty pleas of Black Guerrilla Family Man Tavon White might have convinced Maryland's public safety secretary, Gary Maynard, that things were finally getting back to normal in his world.

White, the BGF leader who once ruled the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center, copped to federal and state charges. He will soon retire to a federal institution, probably until the five children he fathered with jail guards are in their 20s.

Maynard has been taking most of the heat for the sex-and-smuggling scandal at La Bastille Tavon, which involves 13 corrections officers and nearly as many inmates. (Governor Meh, as The New Republic called him, has been too busy "laying the framework" for a presidential run to be bothered much with the prison mess.) Maynard has stood up through it all. He even moved into an office at the jail to oversee its recovery from an almost complete collapse of leadership.

That White admitted to his crimes, including attempted murder, was surprising and good news for the 70-year-old Maynard. It means Tavon goes bye-bye and raises the possibility of a relatively rapid closure to the case that rocked Maynard's world.

But then came Beat-A-Guard Month.

The union representing corrections officers revealed that at least 15 of them have been attacked by inmates since July at North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland. One was stabbed multiple times with a homemade weapon, and the union says prison officials knew the attack was possible but failed to warn the targeted guard. Also, three North Branch inmates have been killed there in the past year. The union is calling for the resignations of three high-level corrections officials in Western Maryland — but not, I should add, Gary Maynard.

Perhaps it's because of all this negativity — and the increasing perception that our prisons are out of control — that a deputy chief of staff for Governor Meh and the public information officers for Maynard got in touch with me late last week. They wanted to correct something I reported in Thursday's column with regard to the prisons.

I said Maryland's recidivism rate was "close to 50 percent." The state says it's more like 43 percent now.

It seems I missed some significant progress during the last few years with regard to recidivism — that is, the rate at which inmates who are released from prison return there.

You're a recidivist if you come back within three years. It means you finished your sentence or earned parole, but soon committed another crime or violated the terms of your release.

Some guys step into freedom without a clue what to do. They return almost immediately to their old haunts, their old friends and their old habits.

Others want to break from their old ways but can't find a job, primarily because so few companies are willing to take a chance on someone with a criminal record. That's a real problem with adult males from certain areas of Baltimore — specific ZIP codes that have had chronically high unemployment rates and re-arrest rates among their ex-offender populations.

When Martin O'Malley was mayor, about 10 years ago now, the city established re-entry programs for ex-offenders, and a few nonprofits were involved in that realm of service.

But the state's recidivism rate was close to 50 percent — better than in some states, worse than in others.

In the past few years, state officials say, the "O'Malley/Brown administration" has put more effort into prerelease, education, job-training and drug treatment programs. As a result, they say, the recidivism rate fell from 48.5 percent in 2007 to 43.3 percent in 2011. That's pretty good, especially because that was a recessionary period.

But I don't think this good news has much to do with the governor's leadership.

O'Malley has never had much to say about offender re-entry. I don't remember him ever expressing a fresh, holistic approach to helping more offenders break the cycle of criminality and incarceration that costs taxpayers millions.

In fact, when I asked for evidence of the governor's interest in the subject, I was directed to four documents in which offender re-entry was mentioned. (I'm assuming it was mentioned in two of them because I couldn't bring myself to read O'Malley's 2009 State of the State or his 2007 speech to the Maryland Association of Counties. The eyes, they glaze.)

One of the documents was the January 2007 news release announcing Gary Maynard's appointment as corrections secretary. But O'Malley isn't the one who mentions re-entry in the quotes in the release. Maynard is.

"In the coming months and years," Maynard says, "we will run a professional department, where we will secure our prisons, strengthen our ex-offender re-entry programs, and most of all fulfill our mission to safeguard the public."

Well, you can't have everything.

Gary Maynard is prison boss. He gets blamed for the mess, and maybe he should get the boot. At the same time, 5.2 percent fewer guys are coming out of our prisons and committing crimes that send them back there. That's no small thing, and give Mr. Maynard some credit.

ll thing, and give Mr. Maynard some credit.