State Prisons Department Offers Sage Advice to the World
Bill Sage travels the world, from Kosovo to Nigeria, explaining the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services vast intelligence gathering network that thwarts jailed criminals and prison corruption.
The U.S. Justice Department and State Department regularly summons the Maryland prisons director into action as an intelligence ambassador.
“We call him the international man of mystery,’’ said, Errol Etting, Executive Director of the department’s Intelligence/Investigation Division. “We play ‘where’s Bill?’”
Maryland has developed an intricate intelligence network spurred by the 2013 corruption scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where 24 correctional officers and 15 inmates were convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, drug distribution and money laundering.
“BCDC was the incident that put egg on our face and forced us to adapt,” said Sage, who has been with the department for seven years.
Three years later, the department worked with federal law enforcement in the largest indictment in Maryland history, 80 officers, inmates and citizen accomplices involved in similar corruption at Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Md.
“It looks like we have a huge corruption problem but I tell people no, we’re just rooting it out,” Sage said. “The overwhelming majority of correctional officers are good people who want to do a good job and they support us exposing the wrongdoing.”
Working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, state prosecutors, local State’s Attorney’s offices along with the U.S. Attorney and Federal Bureau of Investigation, the department has delivered on Governor Larry Hogan’s promise to root out corruption.
Earlier this year, officers, inmates and citizen accomplices were indicted in widespread drug and prison smuggling orchestrated from the state’s Jessup Correctional Institution.
“We’re like a snowball rolling downhill gaining momentum,” Sage said.
The work poses a daily intelligence chess match with the bad guys, Sage said.
““Just because they’re incarcerated won’t stop them from criminal enterprises,” Sage said. “Inmates and corrupt correctional officers get creative.”
Maryland is now a national example of premier intelligence due to its use of emerging technology. The duties of a special Analytical and Technical Unit include forensic cellphone extraction, gang validation and analysis and tracking and analyzing institution assaults and contraband recoveries.
The unit contains monitors whose sole responsibility is to listen and intercept inmate phone exchanges that could threaten the safety and security of a facility. The department has also worked with other agencies to get wiretaps on accomplices outside the facilities complicit in prison crime.
Cameras and data from the information age can instantly spit out a matrix showing a gang’s organizational tree, Sage said. The intelligence is boosted by a large contingent of K-9 sniffing dogs.
The department must also keep an eye on what is developing in county detention centers, Sage said.
“The county detention centers are filling with the MS-13 gang,” he said. “Where do they go next? To state prisons.”
Sage started in counter intelligence serving in the Army. He also worked with the Montgomery County Police Department undercover narcotics unit. Many of his Maryland department staff are former veteran Baltimore homicide investigators.
“They put the puzzle pieces together,” Sage said. “They give us the ability to do these investigations.”
Many of the countries around the world, such as Indonesia where Sage most recently visited, don’t have structured intelligence units in their prison system. That’s why they call on the International Man of Mystery.
“Knowledge is power,” Sage said. “If we don’t give it to those who can make use of it, it’s no good.”