Baltimore City Jail & Gang Corruption

Prison and Jail Corruption

Baltimore City Jail & Gang Corruption

By groupuscule — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Problem Background

One of the most important areas of public safety is the proper administration of correctional facilities. Corrections facilities have a long history of corruption dating back to the very first facilities opened in the US. Corruption in prisons has the negative impact of endangering the public by allowing prisoners to operate without punishment and thereby without rehabilitation. In some instances, corruption is so blatant and pervasive that the inmates are able to impact the lives of innocent people on the outside. Typically, the most pervasive form of corruption is internal corruption. This has many forms within the correctional facility but in general it is the collusion of prison workers with prisoners in which the workers receive some form of benefit from the prisoner or his affiliations on the outside. In order to stop this problem, policies must be implemented which deter these actions both on the part of prison inmates and workers.

The Warden as Leader

In 2011, the newly designated warden of Baltimore City Jail, Wendell “Pete” France, faced an insurmountable task of cleaning up the corruption in the jail. The problem was so pervasive that all attempts to correct behavior and stop corruption failed and the new warden was forced to call the FBI. More than three quarters of the City Jail officers were involved in contraband smuggling. The situation in City Jail was unique and presents a leadership issue due to the fact that the officers involved in the corruption had forms of affiliation with many inmates in particular with a local Baltimore gang named the “Black Guerrilla Family”.

Part of the problem in this situation is the fact that many of the workers in Baltimore’s City Jail came from the same neighborhoods as the gangs in the jail. While this is not the same as being affiliated with a gang, it is does draw into question the past leadership of the jail with regard to depth of background check and hiring practices for correctional officers. In this situation the relationships between officers and inmates spiraled out of control because there was no strong ethical leadership.

An understanding of ethics is important to the management process because it provides the connection between proper behavior and the institutions functioning. The ethics of an organization serves more than just a window dressing and actually helps guide and focus the mission by removing unwanted behaviors. The importance of this connection cannot be overstated as City Jail is provides a grim example of how an institution can devolve to a point of no return.

Organizational ethics is top-down responsibility for management to enforce and to provide a strong example for the organization. According to Ermann and Lundman, (2002) organizations that lack ethical leadership devolve into corruption. One can see from cases such as Enron and WorldCom in which leadership of the organizations not only inspired but emphasized unethical thinking and behavior. This problem can be seen in City Jail as leaderhip was lacking ethical strength for a long time. This occurred long before Wendell France took command of the jail. It was reported in 2010 that France met with incredible resistance when attempting to enforce the most basic policies in the jail:

…detainees at the Baltimore City jail were wearing street clothes, despite rules forbidding casual attire.

Previous administrations did not enforce the regulation. But after Wendell M. “Pete” France took over as commissioner of pretrial detention for Maryland’s prison system in January, he ordered everyone at the state-run detention center and Central Booking to don jumpsuits.

The inmates protested, and last month they began setting small fires in trash cans that soon numbered a dozen. France ordered a lockdown of the city jail — which holds about 4,500 arrestees awaiting trial — prohibiting visits and limiting recreation time as correctional officers conducted a cell-by-cell search (Hermann, 2010).

Despite these measures, corrections officers and inmates resisted change. Having become use to operating in an unethical manner, the jail could not alter its patterns. This forced Federal involvement in order to arrest and remove the unethical elements from the jail. The situation had escalated to a serious public safety hazard in which prisoners were running the jail.


Prisons and jails are difficult environments due to their propensity for violence and corruption. When viewing the problem of ethical leadership, one can create a strategy for hiring wardens based on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of the prison environment.


• Inmates must deal with guards due to the closed nature of the environment.
• Utilize the latest in security technology such as cell phone jamming.
• Eliminate situations in which guards are familiar with inmates.
• Team efforts in management.


• Security issues
• Poor management
• Employee morale problems low pay and lack of discipline
• Officers not properly trained
• Drug and alcohol abuse among employees and inmates


• Engage corrections officers looking for solutions
• Look for inexpensive programs for inmates
• Increase employee development
• Keeping inmates inside the prison


• relationships between inmates and corrections officers
• lack of intense scrutiny of background checks
• small city increased likelihood that corrections officers will know inmates.

Leadership Solution

The SWOT reveals that there are many elements in the City Jail scenario which can place ethics at risk within prisons and jails. One of the most effective and simplest remedies to many of these issues is to have leaders who are transformational in nature. Transformational leadership is a leadership style that instills positive, valuable changes in followers (Bass & Riggio, 2006). The ultimate goal of transformational leadership is to develop followers into leaders (Bass & Riggio, 2006). The transformational leader accomplishes this task by teaching the followers to help each other, to look out for each other, and to be encouraging and harmonious. The grand goal encompassing these traits is the loyalty and caring of the follower towards the organization as a whole (Bass & Riggio, 2006). Under this approach transformational leaders enhance the motivation, morale and performance of his or her workers through a variety of psychological devices. These devices include meshing the follower’s identity and self to the mission and the instilling the collective identity of the organization. Other simpler devices include being a role model that inspires others; challenging followers to be responsible for their work, and realizing the strengths and weaknesses of peers (Bass & Riggio, 2006). By doing this the transformational leader can appropriately assign tasks and optimizes group performance.

Utilizing the transformational leadership approach in prisons and jails allows for wardens and public safety commissioners to engage workers more effectively than utilizing a classic authoritarian approach. This leadership style is a more practical approach to leadership because it does not rely on blind loyalty which is difficult to gain from followers. Rather, this approach provides followers with a means of finding value in the task and leadership and promotes ethical behavior.


Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational Leadership . Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Drizin, S. A. (1984). Fi h Amendment — Will the Public Safety Exception Swallow the Miranda Exclusionary Rule. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 75(3).

EEOC. (2004, September 10). ADA: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees. Retrieved from The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Ermann, M. D. (2002). Corporate and Governmental Practices. New York, NY: Random.

Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results. New Jersey: Harvard Business Review.

Hermann, P. (2010, April 8). Hard-line lawman making waves at city jail. Baltimore Sun.


Vincent Triola. Sun, Mar 14, 2021. Baltimore City Jail & Gang Corruption Retrieved from