One visit to the Maryland House of Correction last month and new Corrections Secretary Gary Maynard knew it shouldn’t remain a maximum-security prison, says the Baltimore Sun. When a correctional officer was stabbed on March 2, Maynard concluded that the 1878-era facility needed to be shut down immediately, and Gov. Martin O’Malley quickly agreed. Prison officials have been complaining about the poor conditions, unsafe design, and deteriorating structure of the facility for at least 50 years. Through it all, the Maryland prison, which opened a half-century before Alcatraz, stayed open.
The prison housed many inmates in tiered rows of cells that correctional officers could patrol only from narrow catwalks outside. Inmates could hear officers coming before the officers could see into the cells, prime conditions for an ambush. Drugs, tobacco, and other contraband flowed freely in a place where prisoners were hard to monitor, making it unruly and dangerous. Bernard Ralph, a correctional officer, said it was “as bad as you could imagine. Staff came in here with a little bit of courage on one shoulder and a little bit of fear on the other shoulder.” O’Malley said it was the fear that delay could lead to more attacks on prisoners or guards that made him act.