Union satisfied problems at prison to be corrected

December 06, 1990|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff Richard Irwin contributed to this story.

Union officials who represent prison guards said they are sure prison officials will work with them to correct problems in the high security wing of the Maryland Penitentiary, where a guard was stabbed Tuesday night.

Maryland Classified Employees Association officials met with Richard Lanham, acting commissioner of corrections, for more than an hour yesterday in the division's headquarters in Reisterstown Road Plaza. The union asked for the meeting to demand that the South Wing of the penitentiary be torn down and that officials boost the pay and recruitment effort for correctional officers.

The session followed the stabbing Tuesday night of correctional officer Wendell Winchester, 30, who was rushed to the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore where he underwent surgery for 11 stab wounds, including four to the abdomen. The stabbing occurred while Winchester and another officer were routinely checking cells for signs of an attempt to escape.

Winchester, a guard for three years, was listed in serious condition today at Shock-Trauma. He was stabbed with a 7-inch makeshift knife.

Three other officers were injured slightly during a scuffle yesterday with another inmate as corrections officials continued a shakedown of the wing. The inmate involved in the scuffle had a two-foot piece of metal in his cell, prison officials said.

State Police Sgt. Gregory Shipley, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the three officers were not stabbed.

"One sustained a swollen hand in the scuffle, another received a cut under the left eye and the third officer cut his leg on the cell door," Shipley said.

None required medical attention.

Shipley said the unidentified inmate involved in the scuffle backed off and was not forcibly subdued. Charges against him were pending.

After meeting with Lanham yesterday, several union officials emerged and expressed confidence the commissioner would respond favorably to their demands.

"This was the fastest meeting we've ever had with a commissioner," said Joseph Cook, MCEA director of field services. "Commissioner Lanham appeared willing to listen and I think he was there to support the officers."

Lanham had no comment on his meeting with MCEA representatives, but Shipley said Lanham's decision to meet with union officials "speaks of his concern."

Talk of tearing down the 90-year-old South Wing has been bandied about since 1984, when Correctional Officer Herman Toulson was stabbed to death there by an inmate. Former state attorney general Stephen H. Sachs subsequently issued a report calling the prison "a circle of hell."

In 1987, the Schaefer administration proposed tearing down the wing but the move has never been approved by the legislature. In recent years, the prison has been kept open in part because of the growing prison population.

Union officials said yesterday they were assured that administration officials remain committed to razing the wing. They said Lanham said there are no plans to rescind an 8 percent salary increase correctional officers are slated to begin receiving Jan. 1.

The South Wing holds inmates with severe disciplinary problems but because of its age was labeled "unsafe and dilapidated" yesterday by Lance R. Cornine, MCEA executive director.

The attack on Winchester occurred around 8 p.m. Tuesday as he and another officer were making rounds in the "flats," the first of the South Wing's five levels. Shipley said the guards were tapping the floors of cells.

Floor tapping is routine when guards feel an inmate may be attempting to tunnel beneath a cell floor to escape, Shipley said.

When Winchester and the other guard told an inmate to step out of his cell so they could tap the floor, the inmate initially complied, but then suddenly attacked Winchester from the rear, stabbing him with the 7-inch shiv.

The other guard was not injured. Officials are not releasing the name of the inmate pending charges being filed.

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