Maryland County Jail Guards Receive Rights Mirroring Those of State Prison Guards
A new Maryland law extends legal rights to guards at two county jails during investigations and disciplinary proceedings similar to those provided to guards in state prisons and several other counties. Then-Governor Mark O’Malley signed legislation in April 2013 that grants the protections to guards at the Allegany and Harford County jails.
Maryland’s Correctional Officers’ Bill of Rights (COBOR), which covers state prison guards, provides that guards cannot be required to disclose financial or family information unless the disclosure is required by state or federal law or the information is necessary to investigate a possible conflict of interest. The new law extends those rights to jail guards in Allegany and Harford counties.
Unlike COBOR, the new statute does not enumerate or define “misconduct” but does specify procedures for brutality complaints, which COBOR doesn’t.
“However, COBOR does specify that an appointing authority may not recommend disciplinary action against a correctional officer for excessive use of force against an inmate based solely on the uncorroborated statement of the inmate unless the appointing authority determines that there exists any indicia of reliability to support the inmate’s allegation,” according to fiscal and policy notes attached to the legislation.
The notes further state that the law is not intended to limit the county sheriffs’ authority to regulate the management of their jails “by reasonable means including the transfer and reassignment of employees if (1) that action is not punitive in nature, and (2) the appointing authority determines that action to be in the best interests of the internal management” of the facilities.
COBOR requires that a guard under investigation must be advised, at least 24 hours before an interview, of the name, rank and command of the person in charge of the investigation, the interviewing officer and each person who will be present during the interview. The new law contains no such timeframe for notification.
The statute does, however, include procedures concerning the issuance of subpoenas; it also requires the hearing board to put in writing any decision, order or action taken and accompanying findings of fact.
The managing official in Harford County does not have the ability to agree to the finality of a hearing board decision with a certified bargaining representative for the jail guards, while in Allegany County the managing official does have that ability. In both counties, the “decision of the hearing board is final if the managing official is an eyewitness to the underlying incident.”
In 2015, similar legislation was introduced (HB115) to extend the rights provided under COBOR to jail guards in Carroll County. The legislature passed the bill on March 30, 2015 and it is currently pending the governor’s approval.
See: Department of Legislative Services, Maryland General Assembly, 2013 Session, Fiscal and Policy Notes for HB255 and HB346
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