by Charles Lane
April 28, 2014
Even for crime and corruption-ridden Baltimore, the April 2013 federal indictment charging 25 people with drug dealing, prostitution, and violence was a shocker: all of the alleged crimes occurred inside the city’s biggest jail. Worse, 13 of the accused were guards. Federal authorities asserted that a three-year-old state law known as the Correctional Officers Bill of Rights (COBR) was partly to blame for the scandal. Maryland Democratic Governor O’Malley, lawmakers of both parties, and the correctional officers’ union—the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)—had all backed COBR. The story of the law is, if anything, more damning than the feds could say. Although Governor O’Malley’s reform bill is a clear improvement over the status quo under COBR, it does not reach criminal activity by officers off-site or off-duty. More is at stake than who runs the state’s prisons. The real issue is who runs Maryland.