The problems at Maryland's troubled prisons in Jessup continued yesterday as authorities thwarted an attempted escape by an inmate serving a life sentence for attempted murder.
State prison officials said the inmate scaled an interior fence at the Maryland House of Correction Annex and was trying to get past razor wire and over another fence to the outside before he was ordered down by a correctional officer patrolling the prison perimeter.
"He was not being combative, he was compliant," said Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Division of Correction.
The attempted escape was the latest in a series of incidents at state prisons in Jessup, where three inmates have been fatally stabbed since December and more than a half-dozen others have been seriously injured.
The most recent stabbing occurred Friday at the Maryland Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison, when two prisoners managed to get out of what were supposed to have been locked cells.
They assaulted an officer, took his keys and used them to gain access to another prisoner who was stabbed several times. The injured inmate was taken by ambulance to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for treatment of his injuries and returned to the prison, according to prison officials.
Doggett confirmed the details of the incident when she was questioned about accounts The Sun obtained from other correctional sources.
The two prisoners were in cells in the segregation housing unit, where inmates are kept apart from the general prison population for disciplinary or other reasons.
A correctional officer was escorting an inmate from the shower back to his cell Friday when the two men, who had jammed the latches on their cell door, emerged, Doggett said.
As the two inmates approached, she said, the officer pushed the prisoner he was escorting behind a metal gate that separates the shower area from the housing tier and secured it. He was not carrying a gun because officers in contact with inmates are not allowed to carry firearms, only pepper spray.
The inmates, who had homemade knives, wrestled the keys from the officer and managed to get to the other prisoner and stab him several times before more officers could arrive and intercede, Doggett said.
The officer who was escorting the inmate was taken to a local medical center for treatment of a sprained left shoulder and is on administrative leave while he recovers, she said.
Authorities are investigating how inmates breached security by overriding locks on the cell doors, Doggett said.
Frank C. Sizer Jr., the state's prisons chief, said that the officer who was assaulted "did an excellent job of managing the incident."
The two inmates involved in the incident were transferred from Jessup to Supermax, the maximum-security prison in Baltimore, and "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Sizer said.
The attempted escape at the annex, which houses 1,200 prisoners, started about 7:40 a.m. yesterday when an inmate leaving one of the buildings for breakfast broke away, charged toward the fence and started climbing over it, Doggett said.
She said an escape alert was sounded, and police dog units were brought in to help keep the inmate confined to the area between the interior and exterior fences. The warden was able to talk the inmate into surrendering without further incident about 8:30 a.m., she said.
Doggett said there have been three attempted escapes at the annex since it opened in 1991, the most recent one in 1999. None has been successful, she said.
The annex essentially is a prison within a prison - a separate, walled and razor-wired enclave inside the House of Correction compound at Jessup. The maximum-security prison houses many of Maryland's most violent prisoners. Most are serving life sentences, and some belong to gangs, according to Sizer and other prison officials.
Sizer confirmed yesterday that he is trying to address problems at the annex by moving some prisoners from the Jessup facility to the North Branch Correctional Institution, a recently built prison near Cumberland.
He said concentrating so many "lifers" in one place is not desirable and that the transfers, which started last week, are designed to ease some of the pressures at the annex.
Sizer said moving some inmates to North Branch is also meant to "send a message to problem inmates that certain types of behavior and actions will not be tolerated."
The annex and adjacent Maryland House of Correction in Jessup have long had a reputation as violent prisons where contraband flows freely.
Doggett confirmed that drugs, cell phones and other items were discovered after about 20 inmates arrived at North Branch from the annex last week.
She said that two inmates were found to have contraband hidden in body cavities. One had a white powdery substance, believed to be a drug, and a cell phone; the other had a charger and two cell phones, she said.
Doggett said additional contraband was found in personal belongings of the inmates being transferred - including a cell phone hidden in the base of a TV antenna and a white powdery substance that tested positive as heroin.