Prison makes changes in security

October 05, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Neighbors of the Patuxent Institution in Jessup say they are relieved by changes made at the maximum-security prison after an inmate's escape two months ago.

But many residents -- as well as Del. Virginia M. Thomas, who toured the institution Monday -- say they hope more can be done to increase security at the prison.

Among the changes made by prison officials are installing a $52,000 razor wire fence and clarifying the use of sirens to alert residents to future escapes, according to Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"I think it was a big embarrassment, and they will definitely take care of the situation," said Melanie Gutjahr, a Jessup resident and member of a citizens group overseeing the prison. "I am satisfied with what they have done and what they say they will do if there is another escape."

A 31-year-old inmate, who was serving time for armed robbery, escaped from Patuxent Aug. 17 after cutting through steel bars at his cell window with a hacksaw and climbing over an outer fence. He was arrested a week later in West Palm Beach, Fla., and is accused of robbing two banks while a fugitive.

Prison neighbors were upset by the escape because they did not hear any alarms once officials discovered the inmate was missing.

"My main concern was the fact that they didn't sound the alarm," said Ms. Gutjahr, whose advisory group is scheduled to meet this month to review the prison's security changes.

But prison officials say that they sounded an alarm but it may not have been loud enough or long enough to alert neighbors.

The new prison policy will be to sound an alarm as soon as prison officials suspect that an inmate might be missing, then set off another alarm to signal either an all-clear or that an inmate has escaped, said Ms. Thomas, Democratic candidate for state Senate in District 13.

Residents also said they are concerned about the type of prisoners housed at Patuxent. They said that the inmate who escaped, Kevin Siler, should have been placed in the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore -- which is intended to be a more secure prison -- instead of Patuxent because he had already tried an escape from the nearby Maryland House of Correction in 1989.

"This guy was inappropriately placed, which is pretty serious," Ms. Thomas said. "This guy was too dangerous. But they have said they will look at who they place in there in the future."

The changes do not appear to have quelled all the community's fears. "If the guy got over the fence one time, someone is going to get over again," said Joe Keegin, a resident of the Sherwood Acres neighborhood. "It looks to me like they need to do more."

In response to such worries, Ms. Thomas said, she is working to get more funding for the prison.

Mr. Sipes said that additional security measures will be included as part of the more than $1 million in renovations scheduled at the prison.

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