A recent lawsuit alleges that White correctional officers in Maryland prisons created a “race-based gang” to block employees of color and others not part of the gang from promotion and to avoid punishment for smuggling contraband. When Colenzo Grant, 38, came to the United States in 2014 after surviving a civil war in Sierra Leone, he didn’t think he’d end up working at a prison in Western Maryland. But after he followed a woman to Hagerstown, about 70 miles northwest of the District, he learned the Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC) was hiring correctional officers. He had military training, so he applied and started working at the institution in 2021. He was among the first Black officers the institution hired. Many new Black staffers were immigrants. And, Grant said, they were not welcome, the Washington Post reports. It wasn’t just that Black officers served under exclusively White supervisors, according to Grant. They were denied promotions. They were denied opportunities for overtime. They were told to go back to their country. “This is a job for White officers,” Grant said one co-worker told him. “You have to get your Black ass out of here.” Grant is now part of the federal class-action lawsuit filed against corrections officials by Black officers at MCTC last year.
In a statement, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, a defendant in the suit, said that it “is aware of the complaints alleged in this suit and is investigating the serious claims.” “The Department cannot comment further on pending litigation at this time,” the statement said. In a court motion filed last month, the department said the case should be dismissed because the officers did not try to fix their alleged problems administratively and because their claims should not be considered together, among other concerns. “Not only do the plaintiffs’ claims vary among race-, national origin-, and sex-based discrimination, but also their alleged damages vary,” the motion said. “The complaint is devoid of allegations setting forth that the plaintiffs met the required pre-suit administrative procedures.”