The Commissioner Responds

July 05, 1992

Richard Lanham, commissioner of the state Division of Correction, offered these comments in response to Dennis Wise's account of last summer's riot at the Maryland Penitentiary.

Regarding the role of the media:

I had forgotten about an unwritten agreement developed years ago that as long as a hostage was in jeopardy, none of the media -- print or TV -- would become involved with the hostage taker. On release of the hostage, they would be allowed to do so. When they [the hostage negotiators] couldn't sell the deal [to the hostage takers], I said all bets are off. Give me the hostage and I will guarantee safe conduct out of the building. I said I didn't want anyone getting hurt.

Regarding the release of the last hostage:

They brought the hostage to the windows. But there was a mass of humanity in the stairwell. Warden Sewall Smith said, 'I'll work my way up and get him.' I told him I wasn't keen on it but I recognized his concern. It was a calculated risk. He went in and worked his way up the staircase among the inmates. In five minutes he appeared at the window and stood behind the hostage. He did a hell of a job.

Regarding the seizure of personal property:

The inmates were brought out, searched and sat down. I told them we'd established there were two guns secreted in the prison. As to how long they remained in the yard depended on whether we found the weapons or someone told us where they were. Our initial search didn't find the two guns. I called the National Guard to provide us with tents. Dennis Wise was very instrumental in helping get inmates out from the west wing to help us with mattresses. I said I regretted they were stuck outside while we searched for the guns.

We had no choice but to take out of C-Dorm all of their personal belongings, to totally clean out the building. We loaded four tractor-trailers with stuff. I was shocked. They had more clothing than they were allowed -- completely out of compliance with what they were allowed to have. One inmate had 12 pairs of tennis shoes. We did the best we could to get their property back as long as it was in compliance. It was actually a fire hazard.

Regarding Wise's repeated concerns about reprisals:

Since my arrival I have made it extremely clear to all personnel that brutality will not be tolerated in any shape or form. I feel the staff by and large is a professional group who wants to do a good job. They do not condone brutality. I don't overlook that the corrections officer has an extremely difficult and dangerous job. But you can't run a correction system with individuals who aren't disciplined.

Regarding allegations of poor medical service:

It is difficult to respond as quickly as you'd like with regards to medical services. Given the fact we have 19,000 inmates, what we are running, basically, is an HMO. The cost of their medical services is over $30 million a year. We feel we are doing a good job but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. There will be times when inmates don't get services they think they should.

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