letters to the editor

letters to the editor

September 17, 2006

Prison staffing inexcusably low

As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Safety, I conducted a hearing Aug. 8 to investigate the conditions at Maryland prisons, which have led to violence against correctional officers and the July murder of Officer David McGuinn at the Jessup Correctional Institute.

On Sept. 5, another prison guard at JCI was stabbed by an inmate.

Despite recent salary increases, correctional officers remain hard to recruit because the conditions in which they work are dangerous. A recent administration appropriation of $7 million to buy surveillance cameras and other security equipment will do little to make prisons safer.

What is desperately needed to make prisons safer for correctional personnel is more trained correctional personnel. Qualified trained prison guards are going to be hard to recruit and retain as long as prisons remain dangerous places in which to work.

A report, prepared by legislative analysts, makes it clear that as staffing dollars and authorized positions are cut, inmate-on-staff assaults rise. Division of Correction vacancies more than doubled between fiscal 2003 and 2005 when more than 150 positions were eliminated and $5.6 million in overtime spending cut. During that period, inmate-on-staff assaults nearly doubled at maximum-security prisons, from 3.44 per 100 inmates to 6.64 per 100 inmates.

Of the current 505 staff vacancies, 306 are in the maximum-security facilities in Baltimore and Jessup.

I have asked Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar to be prepared at the committee's hearing on Wednesday to explain why so little progress has been made in making our prisons safer.

Correctional officers know their work is risky. However, the state's failure to keep the risk factor as low as possible is inexcusable.

James E. DeGrange Sr.

Glen Burnie

The writer represents District 32 in the state Senate.

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