Cumberland Times-News

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August 27, 2013

North Branch Correctional Institution will remain a maximum-security facility

CUMBERLAND — The North Branch Correctional Institution was built as a maximum-security prison and will remain a maximum-security prison, said Gary Maynard, the secretary for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, during a Monday interview at the Times-News.

While some variation in practices is possible within the confines of a maximum-security facility, NBCI has been managed and will continue to be managed as a maximum-security prison within the limits of state and federal law, Maynard said. “It is a maximum-security prison, it should be run like a maximum-security institution,” he said.

“I cut my teeth at maximum-security prisons,” Maynard, who started his career in Oklahoma, said.

Some correctional officers have complained that NBCI has been run as a medium-security prison, putting officers at risk. Maynard said that’s not true. In the wake of a spate of recent attacks on officers, Maynard said it may be time to look at various options to change the way certain things are handled at NBCI.

There are about 300 threats a year to staff at NBCI, Maynard said, not an unusual number for the size of the prison, which houses about 1,400 inmates. The prison was designed to house 1,000 inmates, Maynard said. Because of the recent attacks, the prison has been on lockdown or modified movement over the past few months, a department staff member said. Some corrections officers have said they don’t think the lockdowns were in place often enough. Maynard, though, said the lockdowns can be counterproductive if inflicted too often.

If you punish a large number of inmates because of the bad actions of one or two, more resentment toward staff is created, Maynard said.

“You try to go back to normal as soon as possible,” Maynard said.

That doesn’t mean that changes aren’t needed. Changing to a stricter controlled movement policy could be part of the answer. That gives inmates the same freedom they currently have for exercise and other activities, but controls the numbers of prisoners in an area more tightly based on who the inmates are — it also means some inmates will be moved under tighter security, including the use of restraints, Maynard said.

For instance, if 100 inmates are allowed in the yard at any one time, that policy could be modified to have 100 inmates at one time, but limit the number of inmates to 50 or 25 at other times. That means correctional officers will have fewer inmates to supervise at different times of the day and in different situations, Maynard said. While NBCI was meant to be a single-cell facility, when the Maryland House of Corrections was closed in 2007, Maynard ordered doubling up at NBCI to handle new inmates being relocated.

Maximum-security prisons require more staffing than medium- or minimum-security prisons, and Maynard agreed that from an employment standpoint, NBCI’s status has kept jobs in the area.

Maynard was in town Monday to attend a town hall meeting arranged by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents the correctional officers. He planned to brief Gov. Martin O’Malley on the meeting Tuesday.

Maynard also touted some good news — recidivism across the state correctional system is significantly down, he said, at around 40 percent. That’s below the national average and down from about 50 percent in 2007.

“That amounts to some money (saving),” Maynard said. “If you reduce recidivism 10 percent, you’re affecting taxpayers and public safety in a positive way,” Maynard said.

Educational programs at prisons have a strong impact on preventing recidivism, Maynard said, and staff is pushing to fill as many educational programs as possible.

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

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