Unions, Gangs and Prison Scandals

Over the past two weeks, we have heard a lot about the scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where guards allegedly conspired with members of a notorious prison gang to traffic drugs, cell phones, and sexual favors. In case you missed this, the leader of the gang (the  Black Guerilla Family) fathered five children with four female prison guards and was heard telling an acquaintance in a wiretapped call “This is my jail …. I make every final call in this jail.”  Simply put, it appears the inmates really were running the asylum.

According to a May 6, 2013 article in The Washington Post, this sordid mess was aided by 2010 union-backed legislation  that passed the General Assembly with overwhelming support and was signed into law by Governor O’Malley.  The legislation, known as the “Correctional Officers Bill of Rights,” makes it very difficult to discipline prison guards.   If a guard is subject to discipline that may result in a termination, demotion, or suspension, he or she is entitled to a hearing.  Guess who hears the evidence and makes a decision as to whether to proceed with the discipline? The answer: three fellow prison guards, two of whom are in the same union with the officer charged with wrongdoing. Decisions are made by majority vote, so you can imagine how this usually plays out.

In a world where fellow union members decide if a guard can be disciplined, it’s no surprise that the corrections officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center joined with gang members to deal contraband.  Knowing that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get fired, there is little down-side risk to this behavior. What is surprising is that our politicians continue to pass legislation to curry favor with labor supporters without thinking through (or perhaps ignoring) the impact this legislation has on the government’s ability to provide services.



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