Even on the other side of a massive steel door, the music of cell block C roars over the voice of Captain Mike Gullion.
The inmates in the maximum-security block are “jamming,” in the words of Captain Tanya Jackson. Through a tiny, darkened portal in the door, it’s impossible to see what they’re jamming on, exactly, but there’s a clear but rough drumbeat, and a kind of uneven call-and-response chant.
On this side of the door, members of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s Citizens Police Academy are early into their tour of the Harford County Detention Center, straining to hear Gullion, their guide, explain the operations of a nearby control booth. Metal panels rattle loudly on the wall as the cell block emits a dull roar. The class has only been on the other side of the doors for a short time, but Jackson said the inmates’ performance is likely for their benefit.
“It may very well be,” the 32-year veteran of the facility said. “They know you’re here, trust me.”
The academy class received the same tours that The Dagger was given in late 2010 and early 2011, with one notable exception: construction is now complete on the jail’s major expansion. The project increased the detention center’s capacity by 288 beds, to just under 800 inmates, and expanded its medical and processing facilities.
“How much did it cost?” one member of the academy class asked.
“About $29 million,” Gullion responded, correctly citing the $29.3 million price tag. “Some of it paid for by the state, some it paid for by the county.”
“So…we paid for it,” another class member quipped.
Gullion, one of the Sheriff’s Office newer captains, is the operations commander of the detention center. By his own admission, after 20 years of service, he’s become institutionalized in his own way. As he exited from an elevator with part of the class, Gullion stood and waited until the doors closed.
“I always stand next to the elevator as it’s closing. Possible escape route,” he said. “I’ll go to a mall and people will be like, ‘Why is he standing next to the elevator?’”
Among Gullion’s other institution-bestowed habits are always sitting with his back to the wall in a restaurant, and near the windows on an airplane. “And after about three hours, they have to medicate me,” he said.
There has been a spate of inmate deaths in recent years, including a suicide in mid-January and a 2009 incident in which an inmate died after the Sheriff’s Office said he became combative, was shot with a TASER, and struck his head—an incident which led to the filing of a $420 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office by his family earlier this month.
The brief tour, and the classroom session which preceded it, was meant to provide only a basic look at the complex facility and a chance for academy members to see life inside the walls. Below is the presentation made to the class by Captain Timothy Keggins, detailing some of the facts and figures of the Harford County Detention Center over the past year, as well as pictures of the new expansion.
(One note—according to Jackson, the table on page 7 detailing recidivism rates is more correctly defined as “return-to-custody” rates. The distinction, she said, is that return-to-custody rates count individual stints in the jail for various steps of the judicial process. For example, if an inmate was arrested for a crime, briefly housed at the detention center before being released, and is later sentenced to serve time at the jail, Jackson said each visit is counted as that person “returning to custody.”)
Next Week: A tour of the Harford County Emergency Operations Center