Inmates Dismantle a Prison – With Administration Approval

Every April, when Earth Day rolls around, individuals and organizations think about projects they could take on to help the environment: recycling more, repurposing equipment or selling materials for scrap instead of sending them to a landfill.

Few of them do it on the scale undertaken by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which put all three together in the deconstruction of the Maryland House of Correction and saved the state millions of dollars.

workers dismantle steel pipe

Situated on a plot of land outside of Baltimore, the Maryland House of Correction housed inmates for the state from 1878 through 2006. New, up-to-date facilities in another part of the state took care of housing the inmate population, but the building remained empty until 2011 as the state undertook a careful planning and bidding process for deconstruction. In addition to the savings in cost and to the environment, the project provided inmates with job-training skills, incorporating all three of the “wins” that drive the nationwide impetus to make corrections more green and sustainable (see related article, “Greening Corrections Impacts More Than the Environment.”)

“It was a lengthy process of getting approvals from the Department of Budget and Management and the General Assembly, then developing a plan that made it all work out,” says David Bezanson, Assistant Secretary for Capital Programs. “A project of this scope had never been done before, and we had to develop a program and an approach that satisfied a number of historical, fire safety and engineering challenges. Once everything came together, it took about 18 months to finalize the plan and train the inmates, and another 18 months to take down the 350,000-square-foot facility.”

All told, the project resulted in:

  • Recycling 99 percent of building structure removed during deconstruction.
  • Recycling 4,000 tons of steel and 1,086 tons of concrete.
  • Sending only 126 tons of waste to a landfill.
  • Training 150 inmates in job skills that could be used in the construction trade following re-entry into the community.
  • Salvaging all reusable fixtures and equipment for use in other department facilities.
  • Reducing the actual cost to $5.5 million, about half of the contractor’s estimate for a conventional demolition.

“The inmates removed copper wiring, disassembled plumbing, abated asbestos tile and window glazing, demolished block walls, cut away metal gates and removed light fixtures,” Bezanson says. “We created an apprenticeship program for inmates, who completed a four-week training course funded by a grant from the Abell Foundation.”

Acknowledging the irony of using inmates to take a prison apart, Bezanson says the state carefully selected the minimum security inmates who became the work crew based on physical fitness, overall health and minimum eighth-grade education level. All of them had re-entry plans based in metropolitan Baltimore or central Maryland, and the state excluded violent offenders and sex offenders. Professional engineering and consulting firms conducted the classroom training, and some inmates secured jobs in the construction industry after release, he says.

The success of the project led to Bezanson, who also serves as the chair of the American Correctional Association (ACA) Facilities Planning and Design Committee, twice giving presentations on the outcome at ACA meetings. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania have expressed interest in using the Maryland project as a model for planned deconstruction efforts, he says.

“The department saw this as a challenge and looked into how we could accomplish it in a sustainable manner,” Bezanson says. “I think it was very successful and innovative, and as a result, we have a site for a potential future medical facility. It truly was a success in terms of sustainability, utilizing our modern correctional facilities and dealing with removing an old structure.”

For more information, contact David Bezanson at (410) 339-5068 or email

Article photo: Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services