Inmates revolt over privacy Jessup prison rule forbidding sheets hung as boundaries decried

2 officers among 4 injured

Uprising ends after 5 hours -- details of talks not revealed

April 27, 1996|By MICHAEL JAMES | MICHAEL JAMES,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Ellen Gamerman, Ivan Penn and Kate Shatzkin contributed to this

More than 100 medium-security inmates staged a five-hour revolt yesterday at the Maryland House of Correction, barricading themselves in their dormitory and demanding that prison officials listen to their concerns over privacy.

A new rule was take effect at the prison yesterday requiring inmates to take down blankets and sheets they had hung around their bunks as boundaries for their living spaces.

Union officials said the inmates were angry about the rule, started a fight to distract officers and took over the "J" dorm by piling furniture in front of entrances.

Two inmates and two correctional officers were injured in the 8: 20 a.m. fight just before the barricade was erected, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a state prisons spokesman. He said the inmates didn't cause serious damage after taking control and they eventually relinquished the dorm after meeting with the warden.

"The officers said it was a scary incident at first, but everything is calm now. The matter was resolved by negotiation and no other injuries occurred," Mr. Sipes said. He would not disclose the agreement. Both officers were treated for minor injuries.

One of the inmates had an eye injury and the other had stab wounds to his back, neck and head; both were being treated at Greater Laurel Medical Center last night.

Robert Marner, who represents the correctional officers on behalf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the bedsheets have created a problem for security, and the inmates had been told sheets had to be taken down.

"The inmates put these [sheets] up to try to get some sort of privacy between them, but the officers cannot take a proper head count, which is very necessary in corrections," Mr. Marner said. "The officers also have to be able to see exactly what's going on in these areas at all times, and they weren't able to."

Several other union officials said yesterday that the Jessup prison -- which houses 1,199 inmates and has six dormitories -- is understaffed, poses security risks and imposes dangerous working conditions on officers.

Raymond Lenzi, director of field services for the Maryland Classified Employees Association Inc. (MCEA), which represents the correctional officers, said yesterday's incident was a product of prison crowding and staff shortages.

"It's getting ready to blow," Mr. Lenzi said. "Prisons aren't pretty places."

MCEA had requested 150 officers to supplement the current staff of about 500 at the House of the Correction and the House of Correction-Annex, but only 30 were approved for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Mr. Lenzi said.

Maryland Correctional Union President M. Kim Howard, whose organization represents more than 1,300 state correctional employees, said the Jessup prison has only one officer for every 200 inmates.

Other prisons have roughly one officer per 50 inmates, Ms. Howard said.

"At any given time, if these inmates decide they want to do something to an officer, they have every opportunity to do so," she said.

Family members and advocates who talk with prisoners frequently say they have noticed heightened dissatisfaction among inmates recently over a number of issues: cuts in funding for prisoner programs and education, crowding and Gov. Parris N. Glendening's announcement in September that during his term he would virtually eliminate the possibility of parole for prisoners serving life sentences.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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