Prison cases leave a trail of questions, injustice

March 10, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Another year, another corrections officer stabbed at the Maryland House of Correction.

This time, it's 28-year-old Edouardo F. Edouazin, who suffered multiple stab wounds after a 38-year-old inmate allegedly attacked him with a homemade knife. Edouazin's wife, in an article that ran in The Sun on Sunday, said that four inmates attacked her husband.

The number of attackers is, the folks at the Division of Correction tell us, "under investigation." In The Sun article, a prisons spokeswoman said that this newspaper's reporters interviewing Edouazin about the incident would impede the investigation.

Fair enough. Investigations have to be done. I can certainly understand why corrections officials can't answer reporters questions right now about the stabbing of Edouazin. But can they answer some about the fatal stabbing of corrections Officer David McGuinn on July 25, 2006?

McGuinn was called a "by-the-book" corrections officer who was such a stickler for the rules that he was given the nickname "homeland security." It was his dedication that led to McGuinn being put on an inmate hit list.

The threat to McGuinn's life was taken so seriously that he was temporarily reassigned to an area other than the units that housed prisoners. But someone in a supervisory position had McGuinn assigned back to the housing units and doing bed checks. McGuinn was on a bed check when he was stabbed.

It has now been seven months and 13 days since McGuinn was stabbed. Plenty of time, we should believe, for investigators to answer questions posed back in July that corrections officials said couldn't be answered because the matter was under investigation.

So how's the investigation into McGuinn's stabbing going? Who assigned him back into the housing units - and why? Did the inmates who attacked McGuinn really jam their locks to get out - the official story of prison officials - or were the locks defective, as some inmates have claimed in letters to this newspaper's reporters?

Those inmates have some questions of their own. In letters I've received, a couple have asked why the House of Correction was put on lockdown - for six months - after McGuinn was stabbed, even though the two inmates suspected of doing the deed were shipped out of the facility soon after.

Boy, I'll bet prison honchos hate it when inmates start asking probing questions. But the one about the lockdown is a good one: Why were hundreds of men being punished for the actions of two? The inmates who wrote letters said that while they're on lockdown, they can't accrue "good time" toward parole, can't work their prison jobs and can't participate in activities that help their rehabilitation.

One inmate even wrote that the mass lockdowns violate Maryland laws and regulations covering inmate rights. (The guy didn't want his name used. I can't imagine why.) Specifically, he had three questions of his own for prison officials. I figured I'd oblige the man by printing them in this column. They are:

Has the Division of Correction been providing the inmate population with outside recreation or access to the gym?

Has the Division of Correction been providing the inmate population with access to religious services?

Has the Division of Correction been providing the inmate population with access to the library and legal resources?

Mark A. Vernarelli, the director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the prison is under "partial lockdown status" to "reduce the flow of contraband, maintain security and control the movement of large numbers of prisoners at one time." Via e-mail, he answered the questions the inmate asked.

"The primary function of an institution is to maintain custody and security and outside recreation and group activities have been limited," Vernarelli wrote regarding recreation and gym access for prisoners. "Inmates are allowed access to the chaplains during partial lockdown status although group activities are not allowed. Accommodations have been made to allow inmates access to the library during the partial lockdown status."

The lockdowns, Vernarelli stressed, "are not implemented to punish inmates. The security measure is used as a means of controlling mass movement of inmates in an institution where an incident has occurred which disrupts normal security operations."

That response will go over like cussing in church to those inmates who figure they've done nothing to "disrupt normal security operations."

Vernarelli's reply regarding the McGuinn investigation raises more questions than it answers.

McGuinn "died and we must get to the bottom of why and how," Vernarelli wrote. "The DPSCS Internal Investigative Unit and the Maryland State Police both have ongoing investigations that have not yet drawn conclusions on some of the things we are all asking. Officer McGuinn's death cries out for answers, and we will get answers."

They darn well better. Because in another month, I'll be doing another column seeking answers to those very same questions.

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