Where there's smoke

Our view: Prison beatings can't be tolerated

April 11, 2008

Not since guards beat three inmates in the decrepit south wing of the old Maryland Penitentiary in 1981 have assaults on prisoners generated so much attention. Then, the beatings and a cover-up led to an investigation by the attorney general of Maryland and a scathing indictment of prison conditions. Now, inmate beatings at two Western Maryland prisons have resulted in the firing of 25 officers and a continuing state police probe. Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard acted swiftly to clean house, but the investigation needs to go as far as it can to ensure the safety of prisoners and officers.

The firings stem from the March 6 beatings of several prisoners by officers at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. Some of those same inmates were transferred to the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, where they were allegedly beaten again.

State police have refused to provide any details of the cases. But a report in The Sun yesterday said prison officials learned of the March 6 beatings while reviewing an unrelated March 8 beating of an RCI inmate. The newspaper also reported that the inmates in the March 6 beatings had ties to a prison gang and the assaults were retaliations for gang members' fight with RCI guards.

Union representatives say the fired guards are fighting their dismissals. State personnel rules say officials have 30 days to discipline employees, a short period of time to investigate an incident where inmates and guards are the primary witnesses.

That's why it was critical to have the state police investigate. The North Branch prison is a state-of-the-art facility equipped with 500 cameras, which should provide video evidence.

Allegations of gang-related violence and state employees looking the other way are particularly pernicious because they suggest a code of conduct inside the prisons that would pose a danger for all. Investigators should act expeditiously on this matter and share their findings with the public as soon as possible.

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