Cumberland Times-News

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July 11, 2013

Official talks NBCI officer assaults, prison's 'very challenging' atmosphere

CRESAPTOWN — Two assaults of correctional officers at the North Branch Correctional Institution in recent days are not believed to be related in any way, according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

“Our DPSCS intelligence personnel, who now are part of the department’s internal investigative unit, have found nothing to directly link the recent North Branch as-saults,” said Mark Vernarelli, director of public information for the department.

“The dietary officer in Friday’s assault did require a number of stitches and staples to close head injuries. Thankfully, he was not seriously injured, and our internal investigative unit has filed criminal assault charges against the inmate who struck him. This was an isolated attack.

“Last night (Tuesday), four officers suffered minor injuries after an inmate struck a correctional officer in what, right now, looks like a totally unprovoked assault. In addition to the officer who was hit initially, three responding officers suffered minor injuries. They went to the hospital as a precaution and it was not a 911 transport.  

“The inmate involved in that assault was a segregation inmate who had already allegedly assaulted a cell mate. In fact, at the time of the assault on the correctional officer, the inmate was being moved because of his behavior, which speaks to the type of inmate North Branch frequently deals with,” said Vernarelli.

Vernarelli also spoke about the challenges at NBCI.

“North Branch is a very challenging correctional environment because of the inmate population it serves.

“As the state’s newest and most advanced maximum-security facility, it houses a very large number of long-term inmates who are convicted of very serious crimes. As of April, NBCI had 1,399 inmates; nearly 1,000 are convicted of manslaughter or murder.

“Additionally, North Branch receives most of the assaultive inmates in other facilities who are moved because of their behavior. In other words, when an inmate elsewhere across the state has very serious behavioral issues, he is often transferred to North Branch,” he said.

Together, Western Correctional Institution and NBCI house slightly more than 3,000 inmates, and both of the neighboring facilities are maximum-security.

Vernarelli said both prisons “have outstanding staff and offer as much programming as possible. The wardens are constantly on the lookout to increase behavioral management and other programs that will help inmates who want to change do just that.”

“Statewide, our serious assaults against both staff and inmates (those requiring outside medical care) are down significantly since 2007 — 40 percent for serious inmate assaults on staff and 65 percent for serious inmate-on-inmate assaults,” he said.

“Also, in the summer, we tend to see more behavioral issues,” he said.

Following the assault Tuesday, North Branch warden Bobby Shearin locked the facility down while investigations into the recent assaults continue. “He is a 40-year correctional veteran who is behind his staff 100 percent,” said Vernarelli.

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