Cumberland Times-News

July 25, 2013

Team discusses recent spike in prison violence

‘There are a lot of things in the works,’ says DPSCS spokesman

From Staff Reports
Cumberland Times-News

— CRESAPTOWN — A labor-management team at North Branch Correctional Institution addressed a recent spike in assaults on correctional officers by inmates during a meeting Thursday at the maximum-security state prison.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the meeting was not held in reaction to the violence, although the assaults were discussed.

“There are a lot of things in the works,” he said.

Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Gary Maynard is in regular contact with the prison warden, said Vernarelli in comments emailed to the Times-News. Maynard has communicated with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Patrick Moran and is “personally involved” in the North Branch situation. “DPSCS is very sensitive to the safety concerns of staff and inmates,” Vernarelli said.

Deputy Secretary of Operations J. Michael Stouffer is scheduled to visit NBCI Friday.

NBCI has been on lockdown status and is operating on a controlled movement schedule. It has been on modified activities or lockdown after each recent incident, Vernarelli reported.

The most recent incident was Tuesday evening, when two correctional officers were assaulted in the dining room by two inmates. Neither officer suffered serious injuries. One went to the hospital as a precaution with a head injury, but it was not a 911 transport.

“It’s very important to note that system-wide, serious assaults on staff were down significantly between 2007 and 2012. And even at North Branch, all assaults on staff were down 11 percent during fiscal year 2013 compared with FY 2012. In total, DPSCS correctional facilities experienced a 65 percent drop in serious (requiring outside medical transport) assaults on staff between 2007 and 2012,” said Vernarelli.

“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 longterm 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 assaultive behavioral issues, he is often transferred to North Branch,” said Vernarelli.

“The department’s Internal Investigative Unit will file (and has filed) charges against inmates after every serious assault. Some of these inmates will be or have been moved to other facilities, and some may even be moved out of state.

“The prison administration is doing everything possible to review and evaluate inmates, staff post assignments, and security classifications. In addition to the many behavioral and violence reduction efforts already there, North Branch is actively moving to add more programs.”

In addition, about a dozen Maryland lawmakers got a first-hand look at one of the nation’s busiest jails on Thursday as they try to figure out how to stop contraband from flowing into an antiquated facility where some sections are older than the Civil War.

Members of a special legislative commission said afterward that there is a considerable movement of detainees in the Baltimore City Detention Center, as they head to court appointments or health checkups. The jail, which is run by the state, has a standing population of between 2,400 and 3,000 detainees.

“There’s still a lot more to be done,” said Sen. Ed DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel. “A lot more will be done. We’re going to be looking at a lot of things, whether it’s capital improvements that are necessary, whether it’s electronic issues that need to be addressed within the facility, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The facility is the only one of its kind to be managed by the state prison authority. Lawmakers who have been examining the jail have noted that the center is very different from the prisons run by the state, because many of the people held there are pretrial detainees who move around more than prison inmates.