Power Inside’s Jacqueline Robarge says Gov. Larry Hogan’s move to close the Baltimore Detention Center raises questions of what happens to the prisoners who will be moved, and as well questions about the women’s jail open
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: In a press conference on Thursday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced the closing of a portion of the Baltimore Detention Center that houses men. It’s a jail notorious for rampant abuse, corruption, and scandal. MARYLAND GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN: Inmates were literally running this prison. Making matters even worse, a number of employees either stood by or in many cases enabled these criminals and the vast corruption that quickly followed. Maryland taxpayers were unwittingly underwriting a vast criminal enterprise run by gang members and corrupt public servants. Ignoring it was irresponsible and one of the biggest failures in leadership in the history of the State of Maryland. NOOR: The move to close the pre-Civil War era structure has been praised by some advocates. The conditions at the jail were the subject of decades of lawsuits for their inhumane conditions. Gov. Hogan says taxpayers will save at least $10 million a year through its closure, but groups like the Justice Policy Institute say much more could be saved if inmates awaiting trial were released into community supervision instead of being placed behind bars. Now joining us to give her perspective on this is Jacqueline Robarge. She’s been working with prisoners at the Detention Center for the past 15 years, and she’s the founder and director of Power Inside. JACKIE ROBARGE, FOUNDER, POWER INSIDE: Thanks so much for having me. NOOR: Thanks so much for joining us. And so Jacqueline, give us your response to Hogan’s move. Because some Democrats criticized it because they weren’t told about this ahead of time. It was kind of a surprise announcement. ROBERAGE: As Gov. Hogan had mentioned, the conditions of confinement at the Detention Center are well known and the subject of many lawsuits over time. And so to create a dramatic remedy such as moving hundreds of prisoners at one time within a week or two, I’m concerned about how that’s going to be carried out. And a lot of folks don’t really know exactly how it’s going to go. NOOR: And so for a lot of people, this jail, it symbolizes everything that’s kind of wrong with Baltimore. It’s a massive structure. It’s probably the biggest building in Baltimore. And it holds hundreds–or it used to hold thousands of people. Now the population has declined a bit. But you do bring up some important criticisms that it seems like Hogan didn’t address in the press conference, and maybe he hasn’t even really thought out, what’s going to happen to the people who [are not] going to await trial? ROBARGE: I’m assuming that there’s going to be a conversation that we’ll be invited to, and I welcome that. But having said that, our program started at a time when–. NOOR: You’re talking about Power Inside. ROBARGE: Yes. I’m sorry. Power Inside started at a time–. NOOR: And can you just tell us a little bit about it, for the people that don’t know. ROBARGE: Sure. You know, in 2001 we were going in the Detention Center to talk to women who would soon be released. And the women in the Detention Center were largely homeless, drug addicted, sometimes involved in transactional sex where they were trading sex to avoid arrest for drugs, for food, for housing, so very vulnerable folks. And they had an extraordinary, and continue to have an extraordinary number of chronic health issues and urgent health issues that need attending to. And so we go in and talk to the women, see if we can help them find shelter, drug treatment, housing, food, reconnect with their kids. And this needs to be done in very short order, because sometimes people are only there for a week or 30 days, or sometimes no more than a few months. And so we’re hoping that the whole, the totality of folks’ issues, their health issues, their family issues, their psychosocial issues are going to be attended to as this move takes place. It’s not merely a logistical issue. Each individual has needs and we’re hoping that we can kind of work with the secretary and the warden and the commissioner to see that that happens. NOOR: Because it was reported that there’s no immediately plans to make a new jail, so people are going to be dispersed throughout the area, which does concern some advocates because there’s a connection between your proximity of incarceration to your rate of recidivism. Because if you’re being locked up close to home then your family can stay connected with you and you have that connection to your community. ROBARGE: Absolutely. It’s not a small issue that families may not be able to the prisoners. If they are outside of the area they will have to take public transportation. And as we know, the public transportation system in Baltimore City and connecting to other jurisdictions is very limited. So imagine low-income families trying to take buses and trains just to see a detainee to get them the initial supplies that they need such as underwear and t-shirts, and basics like that. So it’s a burden. And then on the flip side when folks come home, how will the transport happen? So while there is a cost savings, I’m wondering what the expense would be to transport prisoners from all of these surrounding facilities back into Baltimore City where they live. NOOR: And so you’ve been working with prisoners for a long time now. And it’s cost a lot of, it’s cost the state of Maryland a lot of money to lock people up. I think one estimate put it at $1 billion a year, annually. Could that money be better spent somewhere else? In programs to support the community, and stuff. ROBARGE: Absolutely. I think about one of our–well, many of our clients arrested on low-level offenses that really, they did not need to be arrested or adjudicated or detained. So for example we had a woman who was detained on an open container charge. So she was out in the street drinking a beer in public, like many folks do. NOOR: Which people do all over Baltimore. ROBARGE: She was arrested and processed and detained, and then put in a so-called problem-solving court where she was given remedies to comply with that were very difficult with her health issues to comply with. She violated that, and she actually–they generated a warrant for her arrest. They came to her house. They used police resources to take this woman from her home to the jail, and put her in jail on a failure to appear, and waited another ten days to bring her back to court. When we found her we were like, enough is enough. Is ten days sufficient for the violation of open container? And so if you look at two jailings, ten days in jail, the possibility that she might lose her housing because she was arrested, the police resources to exercise that warrant, it doesn’t add up. It doesn’t add up if you look at the potential threat to public safety that this woman might pose. NOOR: Well thanks so much for joining us. ROBARGE: Thanks for having me. NOOR: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.