Earlier this month, another inmate being held in the Harford County Detention Center attempted to take his own life. There have been many statements made indicating that this latest incident did result in the inmate’s death, however, attempts to verify the statements through any official reporting meets only silence. If yet another inmate has died under Sheriff Bane’s watch and this information has not been released, the obvious question is why not? In an effort to be thorough, I have checked many news sources for the truth related to the outcome of this incident or even further details on this incident, but it is apparent such information is not being shared by Sheriff Bane with the public. If this was yet another successful suicide, this would bring the total number of lives lost under Sheriff Bane's watch to eight, a regrettable record loss of life for any Sheriff’s term.
There are those individuals who do not view a suicide, much less the suicide of an inmate, as a preventable act or an act that merits a second thought. Any loss of life is tragic and every effort must be made to ensure the safety of those individuals under the supervision of Sheriff Bane while being held at the Detention Center, even if that protection is from themselves. It is Sheriff Bane’s basic responsibility to protect people in his custody from harm and to uphold their constitutional rights. As proclaimed on the Sheriff’s Office’s Website, “The primary purpose of the Detention Center is to provide care, custody and safety of the prisoners and staff, it also offers a variety of programs to inmates.”
As the Detention Center is under Sheriff Bane’s command and control and he has failed to provide effective leadership to confront these tragedies and to address the needs of the Detention Center, he must concede his failure to accomplish the mission. There are a myriad of issues currently impacting the Detention Center and its staff, but none more pressing than effective leadership. Sheriff Bane has allowed the Detention Center to operate without solid leadership for more than a year. The absence of a warden at the Detention Center is a conscious decision made by the Sheriff that adversely affects the safety of the dedicated staff and those under their supervision.
Ironically, and after six months without a warden, Sheriff Bane announced that his chief deputy would serve in the role and there would be no need to hire a new warden. In a shocking demonstration of indecisiveness, three days later Sheriff Bane decided that a new warden was the correct course for the Detention Center. Having apparently decided on the proper course of action, an additional six months have passed with no leader being hired for the warden’s position.
Preventable inmate deaths require immediate and decisive leadership and the absence of this leadership will only compound this and other issues that challenge the Harford County Detention Center. In March 2012, I submitted a letter in reference to inaccurate staffing information being provided to the public by Sheriff Bane and the conclusion of the letter stated, “With a record number of in-custody deaths under Sheriff Bane’s watch, I am disappointed that he does not turn his staffing formula efforts more to the Detention Center’s needs.” We are now six months beyond that letter and the issues that gave rise to my concerns over the Sheriff’s handling of the Detention Center continue. Six months and an entire year since the vacancy in the Harford County Detention Center’s leadership was created with the retirement of Warden DeHaven and the Detention Center has been left neglected and floundering.
Regrettably, we have seen repeated attempts by Sheriff Bane to cover facts with fiction and yet again, this issue reflects that same pattern. When questioned about the previous suicide that took place in the Detention Center and as documented in a related news article by The Dagger, the Sheriff’s own spokesperson, Monica Worrell, “told The Aegis that there was no indication that he was a threat to himself. But following further questions posed by The Dagger, Worrell said jail records showed Kelley had in fact been on suicide watch just a day before his death, as well as during an earlier incarceration in July” (DaggerPress.com, April 2, 2012).
In an official response from Sheriff Bane concerning the retirement of Warden DeHaven, the Sheriff minimized the value of the warden’s position indicating, “The Sheriff has always been the Warden of the Harford County Detention Center under common law” and continuing with “The Sheriff holds all accountability for Detention Center” (DaggerPress.com, November 16, 2011). Under his own declaration, Sheriff Bane is solely accountable for the ongoing issues at the Harford County Detention Center and solely responsible for the failures.
As stated, the leadership issue is just one of a host of issues that Sheriff Bane has failed to address at the Detention Center, but one that should not continue. Any defense is not acceptable. Assigning the responsibilities of the Detention Center to others who remain in their assigned positions is not the correct response. Relief, in the form of a full time qualified warden is required. The safety and security of the Detention Center, the inmates and the hard working women and men working for the Office of the Sheriff should be of paramount importance.
Jeffrey R. Gahler