ANNAPOLIS – Sometimes, prisoners need to be naked. So, when inmates drop their prison uniforms to harass corrections officers, they can’t be prosecuted under indecent exposure laws, which don’t consider a jail cell a public place.
Frustrated corrections officers are pushing a bill in the General Assembly to change that, and make the wrong kind of exposure a crime.
“No matter who you are or where you work you shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of behavior,” said Richard Baker, superintendent of the Jennifer Road Detention Center in Anne Arundel County.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore, and 11 others, is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee Feb. 6.
Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, said he will file the bill in the Senate as well.
Last year, both houses passed versions of the bill, but they never reconciled them so the issue died.
Lawmakers objected because such a law could be misused or violate inmate privacy, Baker said.
The bill has been rewritten to clarify that the exposure must be intentional and indecent.
An inmate’s cell is his home, and some incidental nakedness can be expected. But that isn’t what offends the officers, said Carol Summerlyn, a lobbyist for the Communications Workers of America, which represents detention center officers in Anne Arundel County.
“What we’re attempting to get at is the flagrant, in-your-face, I’m-going- to-do-this-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-back attitude,” Summerlyn said. “We want to provide detention center workers with a harassment-free workplace.”
Corrections officers in Anne Arundel County asked for the bill last year after a frequently flashing inmate’s conviction was overturned.
That inmate’s original conviction caused a dramatic drop in the number of exposures at the detention center, Summerlyn said. Inmates know, too, about the proposed legislation, she said.
“The message was real clear to the inmates when they found out they could get additional time,” she said.
The problem is not widespread, but usually involves male inmates exposing themselves to female guards, Baker said. Inmates can lose privileges or good conduct time for the offense, but sometimes those sanctions are not enough, he said.
“Some of them have nothing to lose,” he said. “I think they do it for the shock value, but I don’t know what sometimes goes through people’s minds.”
The law would apply equally to male and female inmates, and is intended as a last resort, Doory said.
“It’s the ultimate protection for when an inmate is just acting out,” she said. “These corrections officers are professionals. They know the difference.”