Md. senator presses for polygraphs of potential correctional officers

Sen. Michael Hough is psuhing a proposal aimed at requiring potential state correctional officers to pass polygraph tests

By Bethany Rodgers
The Frederick News-Post

BALTIMORE — State Sen. Michael Hough is making progress with a proposal aimed at stamping out jail corruption by requiring potential state correctional officers to pass polygraph tests.

Hough initially introduced the proposal last year in the aftermath of a 2013 scandal at the Baltimore jail, where 44 people were charged in a racketeering conspiracy. Though Hough’s bill faltered last year, it has built momentum in the current legislative session and has already passed out of the Senate. The House has approved a similar version, and Hough said he thinks the proposal is “in good shape” to pass.

Hough, R-District 4, suggested the polygraph requirement after participating in a legislative commission launched in response to the indictments at the city’s jail. Twenty-four correctional officers from the Baltimore City Detention Center have been convicted in the case, according to a U.S. prosecutor’s office.

One of the legislative commission’s recommendations was to start polygraphing correctional officer candidates, and the state last year budgeted more than $347,000 for a polygraph examination unit inside the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The same level of funding appears in the proposed fiscal 2016 budget, according to a legislative analysis.

But while state law allows the department to put potential correctional officers through lie detector tests, it does not require the checks. Hough would like to make the polygraphs a mandatory part of the hiring process to screen for gang affiliations and criminal history.

Without this requirement, officials would be free to stop paying for the polygraph testing in the future, Hough said.

“Right after a crisis or a scandal, reforms are made, and then a couple of years down the line, those reforms get undone,” Hough said.

His bill seeks to prevent the state from reversing course, he said.

Hough’s bill is specific to the state’s correctional system. At a local level, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office already conducts polygraph examinations as part of the hiring process for correctional officers, according to Deputy 1st Class Amanda Hatcher, agency spokeswoman.

Estimates show that the state’s public safety and correctional services would polygraph about 567 potential hires each year if Hough’s bill succeeds. The department estimates that the tests would eliminate all but 215 of these candidates, according to a legislative analysis.

The testing requirement would create the need for two more polygraph examiners and would cost about $141,700 in the current fiscal year, according to the analysis.

A related bill filed by Hough would transfer ownership of the Baltimore jail to the city, but the proposal has seen little traction in the Legislature. Currently, the state runs the facility, but Hough believes it would make more sense for the city to manage the jail.

Lawmakers scaled back the proposal so it simply called for a study of putting the jail in the city’s hands. However, even the tamed-down version of the bill stalled because of opposition from legislators representing the city, Hough said.

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