Lawmakers divided on solution to jail corruption

Carl Lackl was supposed to testify in a murder trial, but he was shot before he could testify. Officials say the hit was called in from the Baltimore city jail.

The incident inspired legislation that would make penalties for prisoners using cell phones a felony. But, the bill never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Lawmakers that supported the bill say the story this week surrounding the indictments of detention officers, inmates and associates is proof that nothing has changed.

Allegations of drugs and sex inside the detention center – officials say the "Black Guerilla Family" members coordinated it all with cell phones.

Lawmakers say after the seizure of more than 1,300 cell phones last year, the indictments make it clear that inmates and guard knew they wouldn't be much of a punishment if they were caught.

"They're not taking it seriously enough in the court system," says Del. John Cluster of Baltimore County. Cluster introduced the legislation inspired by the 2007 murder of Lackl.
Having a cell phone in a state prison is a misdemeanor with a maximum 3-year sentenced. Cluster argues that in almost every case, judges order the cell phone conviction to be served "concurrently" with the inmate's previous sentence.

In other words, the inmates get no additional time for the infraction. Cluster's bill would have changed that.

"It's (proposed bill) mandatory it must run consecutive to the sentence they're serving or they're about to get," Closter says.

While most agree there is a problem, some lawmakers aren't convinced the problem is the strength of current law.

Delegate Curt Anderson says it doesn't appear the current law was the problem at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

"A felony is a bank robbery, it's a murder. It's a very serious crime. I don't think we were ready to extend felony status to a simple smuggling of a cell phone," Anderson said.

Anderson believes the problem is the inmates and correctional officers indicted this week.

"Those who did what is alleged to have been done knew they were breaking the law. It's not a matter of passing new laws," Anderson says.

Regardless, Cluster plans to introduce his bill again next year. He hopes the indictments give the bill the momentum it needs to get passed.

"I think it's important that we set a precedent," he says. "We let them know that we're not going to take this. You want to have a cell phone in prison? Then, you're going to serve an additional five years."

John-"i think it's important that we set a precident we let them know that we're not going to take this. You want to have a cell phone in prison? Then you're going to serve an additional five years" 9:15:02

The House Judiciary Committee now plans to hold a hearing to discuss what when wrong at the Baltimore City Detention Center. It's extraordinary for such a hearing to be held outside of a session.

The hearing is currently scheduled for May 8.

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