Maryland Senate committee supports task-force bill to study giving the state-owned Baltimore City Detention Center back to Baltimore

No sooner had City Paper's current, yet-to-be-distributed edition gone to press than something critical happened involving one of its stories: The Maryland General Assembly bill that sought to transfer ownership and operation of the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) from the state back to Baltimore City has been favorably reported out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPC)—though not in its introduced form. The bill was amended to create a task force to study the issue, instead, and produce a report and recommendations for the governor's desk by Jan. 1, 2016.

The Task Force to Study Ownership and Funding of the Baltimore City Detention Center will examine the issue, while also studying differences between BCDC and "other locally controlled detention centers in the State in overcrowding, diversion programs, and other similar detention issues," according to the amendment. Once its study is complete, the task force will recommend whether or not to transfer BCDC back to the city, which owned and operated it until 1991, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer spearheaded the state's takeover in order to relieve the city's financial and legal burden of trying to correct the facility's myriad problems.

Testimony on the bill broadened the debate from strictly fiscal matters concerning the added expense to the city to public-policy issues involving the advantages of local ownership and control of jails, as is the case in every other Maryland jurisdiction. The shift in the discussion was primarily in reaction to the testimony of Arthur Wallenstein, the retiring director of Montgomery County's detention system, who responded to news of JPC's favorable report by stating in an email, "I am so pleased—they listened."

The members of the task force, should the bill become law, would be: three senators, three delegates, the secretary of the state's correctional agency (or designee), the mayor of Baltimore (or designee), the director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, and a representative of the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association, an organization of correctional professionals.

The bill still has many steps on its path to becoming law, and its House version received an unfavorable report yesterday from the House Appropriations Committee. But the JPC's vote, at 7 to 4, was strong, and included among the yeas were its chair, state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), and veteran members state Sen. Jim Brochin (D-Baltimore County) and state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County).

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