[photo, Metropolitan Transition Center (formerly Maryland Penitentiary), view from lower Forrest St., Baltimore]
  • Development of State Prisons
  • Maryland Penitentiary Penal Commission
  • State Board of Prison Control
  • A State System of Parole & Probation
  • Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services
  • Metropolitan Transition Center (formerly Maryland Penitentiary), view from lower Forrest St., Baltimore, Maryland, January 2000. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was created in 1970 (Chapter 401, Acts of 1970). Today, the Department has statewide responsibility to supervise and rehabilitate adjudicated individuals who pose a threat to the public. In Maryland, these functions initially derived from British precedent and common law, but evolved to fit local needs.

    The Maryland Charter of 1632 made the administration of justice, including the granting of pardons, the privilege and duty of the Proprietor, who usually delegated that authority to the Governor. Under the Lords Baltimore, little criminal law was codified as the Proprietor and Assembly debated over whose prerogative such lawmaking was. In the absence of statutes, local courts defined crimes and punishments. Maryland's largest deviation from British precedent was in the low number of crimes for which death was the penalty. In a labor-scarce economy, executing persons for petty pilfering or other minor crimes did not make sense. British law was bloodthirsty, with hanging the response to a wide range of crimes, from sheep-stealing to adultery. For crimes against property, Maryland and most colonies gradually replaced capital punishment with corporal punishment. Restitution also was required, and a person without resources could be sold for a term of indentured servitude to cover the cost of restitution. Those charged with murder or other crimes against persons faced the death penalty as did those charged with treason or sedition. Retribution was swift in colonial Maryland; a convicted person was either hanged or subjected to whipping, branding, or other corporal punishment. Public humiliation was considered a deterrent, so the convicted criminal was not locked up - only debtors languished in jail. One of the sheriff's earliest duties was to take custody of prisoners. Because few counties had a secure place of confinement for prisoners, most persons awaiting trial were out on bail, bond, or personal recognizance, and a sheriff who could not produce them for trial was penalized. Beginning in 1674, every county was required to build a jail (Chapter 16, Acts of 1674), and the Paper Currency Act of 1733 allotted funds for each county to erect a prison (Chapter 6, Acts of 1733).

    In response to an increase in such crimes as burglary, robbery and horse-stealing, a Court of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery was created in 1793 for Baltimore County (Chapter 57, Acts of 1793). The Court could sentence convicted men for up to seven years hard labor working on the public roads of Baltimore County or building, repairing, or cleaning the streets or basin of Baltimore-town. Caretakers, a place of confinement, coarse apparel, and food, consisting of bread, coarse meat, and water would be provided by the Court. Convicts could be compelled to work in irons and wear a distinctive badge. Any misconduct was punishable by close confinement, a diet of bread and water, and up to thirty-nine lashes of the whip. Convicted women also could be sentenced for up to seven years hard labor; however, their labor was out of public view at such tasks as picking oakum, beating or hackling hemp or flax, manufacturing wool, knitting, or sewing. Women were not subject to whipping. The most interesting feature of the 1793 law was its statewide provision. County courts and the General Court of the State had the option of conveying their convicted criminals to the person or persons appointed to take care of criminals in Baltimore County for the fee of five pounds current money. The law also authorized counties to keep their criminals at home, the men at hard labor on the county roads, the women in the county workhouse. Such laws were known as "wheelbarrow" laws.

    Development of State Prisons. In the nineteenth century, debate focused on systems of penology. Penitentiaries were built in response to public outrage at the spectacle of convicts laboring on roads and other public projects. Their institutional function was to punish prisoners through solitary confinement and, later, hard labor. Prison labor began as a punitive measure, but by the end of the century was perceived as rehabilitative, which justified any profit to the State.

    The Maryland Penitentiary, authorized in 1804 and opened in 1811, vacillated between the two competing penal philosophies of the times, but was renowned for nearly always being profitable (Resolution no. 15, Acts of 1804). A legislative committee inspected the building under construction in 1807 and reported that the new penitentiary had depositories for raw materials and manufactured goods, nine cells measuring roughly 8 by 16 feet, separate rooms for women, and a chapel. The 1809 law, which specified for what crimes and what terms persons were to be sentenced to confinement in the new penitentiary, merely stipulated that convicts "shall be kept therein at hard labour, or in solitude," and male and female prisoners kept separate (Chapter 138, Acts of 1809). Thus, at its inception, the Maryland Penitentiary operated under neither the Philadelphia system of total isolation nor the Auburn system of moral isolation with its discipline of silence by day and solitary confinement by night, enforced by the whip. Both systems, however, exerted some influence. In 1829, the Directors of the Maryland Penitentiary reported the completion of a new east wing designed for solitary confinement at night. In 1837, the Directors were required to remodel or rebuild the old west wing so that prison discipline based on the Philadelphia plan could be extended to the women's department. Further, "the directors shall pay particular regard to the enforcement of the Philadelphia system, to the fullest extent of its admissibility, in the new cells, so as to be able to report to the Governor annually, the effects thereof upon the convicts, as a reformatory and punitive confinement, and also upon the financial and manufacturing operations of the Penitentiary, for the purpose of affording a comparative estimate of the merits of the two great systems of punishment now in use in the United States" (Chapter 320, Acts of 1837). The President and Directors of the Maryland Penitentiary noted in 1838, however, that "the experience of the past year has served to test the efficacy of the Auburn system of prison discipline in our Penitentiary, to the introduction of which the new workshops were expressly adapted." By 1841, the Auburn System was definitely in use.

    Prisoners in the Maryland Penitentiary were kept at hard labor most of the time, either confined in their solitary cells (Philadelphia) or in a common but silent work area (Auburn). The 1809 law called for either hard labor or solitude, whereas the 1837 law required the prisoner to work in his cell during solitary confinement a period not less than one-twentieth nor more than one-half of the total sentence (Chapter 138, Acts of 1809; Chapter 320, Acts of 1837). The weaving of cotton and woolen goods was one of the more successful manufactures undertaken, as it employed even the older and more feeble inmates. In the late 1830's, however, the market for such products was undercut by cheap machine-made calicoes.

    By 1842, the Penitentiary, hit hard by a general commercial depression and the depreciation of its textile production, had accumulated a deficit. Its directors appointed a committee to visit five penitentiaries in the northern states and investigate their manufacturing departments. The Committee on Prison Manufactures (1842) concluded: first, solvency of the Penitentiary required maintaining a large, productive prison population, which had been dwindling since an 1836 law provided for Negroes to be sold out of state for a second offense; second, debate continued over the merits of manufacturing on the State account plan or hiring the convicts out to contractors; and third, working men forced to compete with prison labor might cripple prison industries.

    Maryland Penitentiary Penal Commission. After the Civil War, Maryland used a contract system of prison labor and, between 1880 and 1912, the Penitentiary returned its greatest profits to the State treasury. Rumors of corporal punishment and unsanitary conditions, however, led an investigative commission in 1913 to find that profits had been at the expense of the prisoners. Recommendations of the Maryland Penitentiary Penal Commission were enacted gradually into law and form the basis for the present correctional system. The Commission called for the State Use and State Account Systems to replace contract labor; a central board to govern State prisons; a Board of Pardons and Paroles; a prison farm; and a separate institution for women offenders. The Commission wanted local jails used only for pretrial detention, not for final sentence, and sought State control of juvenile reformatories, passage of an Indeterminate Sentence Act, and classification of prisoners, with incentives for good behavior.

    The Maryland Penitentiary Penal Commission also furthered educational programs for prisoners. The Penitentiary library began in 1844 with books donated by Dorothea Dix among others. Religious instruction had been provided from an early date by outside clergy, the Prisoners' Aid Society, and other groups. In 1905, an institutional chaplain was hired who read prisoner mail and supervised the library. By 1907, prisoners were encouraged to take approved correspondence courses, and in 1913, after the Commission's investigation, night schools for illiterates were started using prisoners as teachers.

    State Board of Prison Control. By 1916, the State Board of Prison Control began to oversee the Maryland Penitentiary and House of Correction, and to phase out contract labor after the Penal System Commission of 1914 advocated changes similar to those recommended by the Maryland Penitentiary Penal Commission, (Chapter 556, Acts of 1916). That same year prison labor came full cycle with passage of a law authorizing the use of prisoners to work on the public roads, bridges, and highways, the spectacle of which back in 1804 had led to the building of the Penitentiary (Chapter 211, Acts of 1916). The contract labor system continued until 1935 when federal legislation outlawed the interstate sale of goods produced in prison, forcing Maryland to establish State Use Industries (Chapter 213, Acts of 1937).

    The Maryland Penitentiary (now Metropolitan Transition Center) is by far the oldest State correctional institution. Not until 1874 was the Maryland House of Correction authorized. Originally sentences to the House of Correction were for not less than three months nor more than three years. Vagrants, the habitually disorderly, and habitually drunk were subject to commitment. Inmates were to be kept at useful employment, not hard labor, and good behavior could lead to remission of sentence (Chapter 233, Acts of 1874). Due to shorter sentences, the House of Correction also had difficulties keeping prisoners working. Prisoners worked on the institution's farm, were hired out to neighboring farmers, and as early as 1915, were working on the roads of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, as well as manufacturing under the contract labor system.

    In 1922, the General Assembly made the State rather than the individual counties and Baltimore City responsible for carrying out the death penalty. The stated intention was to centralize capital punishment at the Maryland Penitentiary where convicted felons under sentence of death would be hanged. This removed execution from the county or city jails as the law then provided, thus relieving the counties from the mobs that frequented hangings (Chapter 465, Acts of 1922). The law applied to offenses committed on or after January 1, 1923. It further directed the Warden of the Maryland Penitentiary to provide and maintain a permanent death chamber within the confines of the Maryland Penitentiary, where the condemned was to be held in solitary confinement.

    [photo, Eastern Correctional Institution, 30420 Revells Neck Road, Westover, Maryland] The twentieth century saw a flurry of prison construction: the Maryland State Penal Farm (now Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown) in 1931; Women's Prison of the State of Maryland at Jessup (now Maryland Correctional Institution for Women - Jessup) in 1939; Patuxent Institution at Jessup in 1951; Maryland Correctional Training Center at Hagerstown in 1966; Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup in 1981; Roxbury Correctional Institution at Hagerstown in 1983; Eastern Correctional Institution at Westover in 1987; Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center (now Chesapeake Detention Facility) at Baltimore in 1989; and Western Correctional Institution, which opened in July 1996 near Cresaptown, south of Cumberland in Allegany County. The North Branch Correctional Institution, near Cumberland, opened in March 2008.

    Eastern Correctional Institution, 30420 Revells Neck Road, Westover, Maryland, May 2017. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    In 1991 , the State assumed additional responsibilities when it took control of the Baltimore City Jail and reorganized it as the Baltimore City Detention Center under the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

    A State System of Parole and Probation. Development of Maryland's system for parole and probation was propelled by the need for prison reform around 1913 and, after 1935, by the problem of prison labor.

    From its opening in 1811, a person sentenced to the Maryland Penitentiary could be released only by pardon of the Governor or expiration of sentence, unless the prisoner died or escaped. No remission of sentence existed as an incentive for good behavior. In 1870, the Governor was authorized to commute a death sentence to confinement in the Penitentiary or banishment, issue conditional pardons, or remit a sentence of confinement under specified conditions (Chapter 306, Acts of 1870).

    In 1894, Maryland became the second state after Massachusetts to use probation as a correctional remedy. Courts were authorized to release first offenders convicted of noncapital offenses upon consideration of "the youth, character and antecedents of the offender, to the nature of the offence, and to any extenuating circumstances under which the offence was committed" (Chapter 402, Acts of 1894). This law may have saved some juveniles from the Penitentiary; yet minors continued to be committed. In 1907, for example, 154 offenders, ages twelve to twenty, were confined in the Maryland Penitentiary.

    Around 1900, many states adopted a system of indeterminate sentence whereby a court imposed a sentence with a minimum and maximum term of confinement. After the minimum term was served, a board reviewed the prisoner's record and determined whether more of the term should be served or the prisoner released on parole. In 1905, the Governor appointed a commission to study this nationwide trend (Chapter 563, Acts of 1906). On the commission was the Warden of the Maryland Penitentiary who strongly opposed indeterminate sentences fearing they would cut into Penitentiary productivity and profits. Not surprisingly, the commission also opposed adopting an indeterminate sentence system.

    The thorough investigation by the Maryland Penitentiary Penal Commission in 1913 not only brought about sweeping changes in the penal system, but also was instrumental in establishing a parole system. In 1914, an amendment to the Constitution authorized laws for the suspension of sentences by courts in criminal cases; indeterminate sentence; and the release of convicts on parole (Chapter 453, Acts of 1914). The same year, the Advisory Board of Parole was created to advise the Governor about issuing conditional pardons and paroles and to supervise released convicts (Chapter 500, Acts of 1914). The three-member Board was authorized to appoint not more than four parole officers. In 1922, the Advisory Board of Parole was replaced by the Parole Commissioner.

    The crisis in the penal system over the issue of prison labor in 1935 ultimately expanded the parole and probation system. The Maryland Commission on Prison Labor recommended to the General Assembly in 1937 that overcrowding be alleviated by the immediate completion of the State Penal Farm, more extensive use of parole with adequate supervision, and a greater use of probation. Adequate supervision was the key; the Parole Commissioner still had only four parole officers supervising approximately 275 parolees. In 1939, the Division of Parole and Probation was created with a board, a director, and a field supervisor to supervise and investigate parolees and probationers (Chapter 406, Acts of 1939). The actual power to grant parole was left with the Governor. Not until 1953 was the Governor relieved of the duty to review all parole recommendations, and the Board of Parole and Probation was authorized to grant parole, except in cases of life sentences (Chapter 625, Acts of 1953).

    [photo, Patuxent Institution, Waterloo Road, Jessup, Maryland] Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. In 1970, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was created, absorbing the previously autonomous entities of the Division of Correction, Division of Parole and Probation, Maryland State Police, State Civil Defense and Emergency Planning Agency, State Fire Prevention Commission and the State Fire Marshal, Maryland Traffic Safety Commission, and Patuxent Institution, as well as certain advisory boards.

    Patuxent Institution, Waterloo Road, Jessup, Maryland, March 2019. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    Formerly under the Department, several agencies transferred elsewhere or were restructured at the end of the twentieth century. The State Civil Defense and Emergency Planning Agency was renamed several times and then transferred to the Military Department in 1989 as the
    Maryland Emergency Management Agency (Chapter 674, Acts of 1989). In 1994, the State Police became a principal executive department (Chapter 165, Acts of 1994). In addition, the office of State Fire Marshal and the State Fire Prevention Commission were made part of the Department of State Police in 1997 (Chapter 352, Acts of 1997).

    Formerly administered by the Department, the death penalty was abolished in Maryland in 2013 (Chapter 156, Acts of 2013).

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