Cumberland Times-News

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February 9, 2013

Need for recess in schools among bills filed in Md. House

CUMBERLAND — The need for recess in public schools and keeping cell phones out of the hands of prisoners are among the items legislators will consider during the current General Assembly session.

House Bill 1153 would establish a task force to study recess in schools.

The task force would consist of two members of the state Senate, two members of the House of Delegates, the state superintendent of schools and one member appointed by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, along with several other members.

The task force would study the health and academic benefits of recess and recommend the time that should be allocated to recess during the school day. The task force would operate from July 1 to June 30, 2014.

House Bill 651 would make it a crime to attempt to get a cell phone to a prisoner and impose stiffer penalties for subsequent violations. Delivering a cell phone to a prisoner is already a criminal offense.

A first offense for an attempt could result in imprisonment up to three years and up to a $1,000 fine. If the legislation passes, a second offense could net up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

Cell phones have been a problem at state prisons, especially in metropolitan areas.

The problem isn’t as severe at prisons located in rural areas, prison officials have said.

“Cell phones are a lucrative form of contraband because, unlike drugs, they have a significant and perpetual resale and rental potential and value,” according to a fiscal and policy note to the bills prepared by the Department of Legislative Services last year.

The contraband phones have been implicated in a prisoner’s arrangements for a hit on a witness in the prisoner’s murder case and in transactions involving a prison-based drug ring, officials said.

Cell phones have become a big safety issue in prisons, Gary Maynard, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has said. Cell phones smuggled into prisons can be used to coordinate illegal activities outside the prison walls and plan escapes and attacks on corrections staff and other inmates. Two thousand cell phones have been confiscated in Maryland prisons since 2008, according to the department.

The department is using the latest technology, including cell phone-sniffing dogs, to get cell phones away from inmates. The dogs have sniffed out 500 cell phones found since 2008. The dogs also offer something of a psychological deterrent, Maynard said.

The department has a $1.2 billion operating budget and supervises 22,000 inmates in 22 prisons and 70,000 individuals on probation and parole, among other duties.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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