Notorious S. Wing at Pen finally empty Last inmate leaves a year after unit was ordered closed.

December 17, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

The Maryland Penitentiary's South Wing, the state's most decrepit and notorious cellblock, is now empty.

The last prisoner was transferred out last Tuesday, 92 years to the day after the 400-cell South Wing opened for business, prison spokesman Gregory M. Shipley said.

The closing came a year after an inmate fell through a crumbling slate floor and down to the next tier in the wing.

After the fall, corrections Commissioner Richard Lanham Sr. ordered the South Wing's last 151 prisoners transferred out. It took a year to find space for the wing's inmates in other facilities, Shipley said.

"The evidence was very clear that the South Wing was structurally a very dangerous place to house inmates," Shipley added. "Until further decisions are made as to what to do with the South Wing, the plan is not to house inmates there."

Most of the prisoners were transferred to either the Division of Correction's annex at the Patuxent Institution or the House of Correction in Jessup.

The South Wing, which housed some of the system's toughest prisoners, became a public issue in 1984, when an inmate fatally stabbed correctional Officer Herman L. Toulson.

After investigating conditions there, then-Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs likened the South Wing to the "innermost circle of hell."

Inside the South Wing's massive stone walls sits a freestanding cellblock that has deteriorated significantly.

In March 1990, officials disclosed that the entire cellblock was listing, causing metal bars to buckle and jamming some cell doors closed. In November 1988, three chunks of slate in the South Wing fell from a walkway outside the cellblocks. In 1987, a boiler blew up.

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