O'Malley meets with correctional officials

Governor indicates he may extend time before disciplinary action is taken on officers

May 09, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley met yesterday with prison officials in Western Maryland, where more than 20 correctional officers were fired recently after allegations of inmate abuse, and said he would consider extending the time before disciplinary action is taken in such cases.

Officers and union officials complained that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services acted too hastily in response to several incidents in March during which officers were accused of beating inmates, failing to intervene or subsequently covering up for colleagues. Twenty-five officers were fired within 30 days, the time frame allowed for disciplinary action, and two were rehired after they were cleared of wrongdoing by further investigation.

"Most of us agree that there's probably a better and more reasonable way to strike the balance between speedy trial rights and also enough time for due process so that things aren't done hastily," O'Malley said after emerging from the half-hour meeting.

The stop at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, one of three state prisons in the Hagerstown area, came at the end of O'Malley's day of events in Hagerstown as part of his "Capital for a Day" tour of several cities across the state.

While prison officials yesterday touted reductions in use-of-force incidents by officers and inmate assaults on staff and each other, the O'Malley administration has confronted a number of problems in the state's prison system.

In particular, the department has had difficulty recruiting new correctional officers to fill vacancies.

The governor fielded questions about his administration's proposal, which didn't win approval during the General Assembly session, to move to 12-hour shifts and limit overtime to address vacancies in prisons and run them with fewer resources.

In the three Hagerstown-area prisons, which house 7,000 inmates, there are roughly 100 vacancies and a staff of 1,650. Prison officials say staffing levels are kept at a safe level, often through overtime.

Andrew A. Carbaugh, one of the officers who met with the governor, said he objected to extending the workday. "After eight hours in here, you're absolutely exhausted some days," he said. "Another four hours is absurd."

Union officials said they want a town-hall style meeting in which all of them, including those who were fired recently, could air their grievances.

Some of the fired officers are appealing their termination. The Maryland State Police investigation, which could bring criminal charges, is continuing, spokesman Greg Shipley said. The allegations of brutality against inmates stem from two incidents at the Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown and the North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Western Maryland Republican who attended the meeting yesterday, said he plans to introduce a "correctional officers bill of rights" next year.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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