Radiators that prisoners were ripping apart to make crude knives will be fitted with stronger covers in 92 cells in the most dangerous section of the "Supermax" prison in Baltimore, according to prison officials.
That decision, made public yesterday, comes six weeks after a prisoner tried to stab a guard with a knife fashioned from a piece of metal ripped from his cell's radiator and almost a year after officials discovered the radiator problem.
Union representatives have criticized state prison officials for not correcting the radiator problem when it was first detected last year.
Prison spokesman Greg Shipley said yesterday that radiators were reinforced in six cells last year after knives were discovered. He said officials were waiting to see how they held up before doing repairs in more cells.
The attempted stabbing, Shipley said, "happened in the meantime."
Shipley said stronger covers will be installed in 20 cells in an area of the prison reserved for extremely dangerous inmates, at a cost of about $4,000. He said work would begin next week. Another 72 radiators will be reinforced with new steel strips that are supposed to prevent inmates from prying the radiator covers off.
Inmates have been able to rip out metal bars from the radiator covers and sharpen them on concrete surfaces in their cells.
Supermax, known formally as the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, houses about 280 of the state's most dangerous prisoners, who spend about 23 hours a day in their cells.
The plans for the radiators were included in a new report on Supermax security.
An evaluation of the prison was begun after an August confrontation in which one guard and three inmates were injured. During the scuffle, an inmate stabbed a guard with a homemade knife, but the blow was deflected by the guard's protective vest.
Citing security concerns, acting corrections Commissioner Elmanus Herndon refused to release the report yesterday. Shipley gave a summary of the findings.
Shipley said the report made recommendations on various security procedures, including the placement of guards and video cameras.
He said the report advised staff to pay better attention to inmates in their cells.
Despite the problem with homemade weapons, Shipley said, officials believe Supermax staff "is doing a good job in a very tough situation."