"Lock them up and throw away the key." Like the rest of the nation, this overriding penal philosophy in Maryland has led to a criminal justice system that is defunct at every level. The state's adult prisons are "in crisis." Its juvenile facilities are "beyond dysfunctional." And its jails - where endemic violence has forced prisoners to make body armor from newspaper - are spiraling into chaos.
Until recently little attention has been paid to what's happening in the state's brutal and violent prisons. But now, following the murders of two guards in the first six months of 2006, the first such deaths in over two decades, legislators and the public are finally taking notice. PLN readers will note this is the third major story we have run on violence and safety in Maryland prisons.
House of Corruption
It was 10 p.m. on July 25, 2006, as guard David W. McGuinn, 42, performed a routine head count in the west wing of the Maryland House of Correction (MHC). Though he was known around the prison as "Homeland Security" for his rigid enforcement of institutional rules, McGuinn likely felt safe even though he was alone. The prison had been on lockdown following a recent spate of violence.
But unbeknownst to McGuinn, two prisoners had apparently jammed the locking mechanisms on their cell doors. As the guard continued his count, they allegedly pounced. An unidentified witness saw one of the prisoners "raising his arm up and down repeatedly in a stabbing motion," according to court documents. The witness reportedly saw McGuinn struck three times and heard him "cry in pain each time." McGuinn managed to radio for help, and when other guards arrived they found him "staggering down the steps with his face and head covered with blood," the documents say. McGuinn later died from stab wounds to the back and neck.
Following the attack, prisoners Lamar C. Harris, 26, and Lee E. Stephens, 27, allegedly returned to their cells. Guards reportedly found Harris at his sink washing clothes and a bed sheet, some of which appeared to be bloodstained. A pair of wet boots that also appeared to have blood on them was found beneath the sink. Bloody clothes and boots were recovered from Stephens' cell, too. Moreover, according to the indictments, "a device commonly used by inmates to prevent their cell doors from locking" was found on the floor outside of Harris' cell. (Those familiar with MHC say the locks are easily jammed with chewing gum, small bars of soap and pieces of paper or cardboard).
McGuinn's strict enforcement of the rules had caused so much friction among guards and prisoners that his supervisors had previously banished him to an area of the facility where he had limited personal contact. "A lot of officers were annoyed because he did his job to the letter," said his girlfriend, Dawn Gardner. "A lot of time, to keep the peace, correctional officers let little, minor things go, and David wasn't a let-it-go kind of person." In fact, McGuinn so perturbed the prisoners that they had threatened to kill him before the summer was over, said Erika Ballard, a former employee at the prison. "It was like a joke," she said. It was not immediately clear why McGuinn had been reassigned to the housing units.
Harris and Stephens were charged with first and second degree murder following the attack. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty based on two aggravating factors: the killing of a law enforcement officer and a murder committed by someone serving a life sentence. The two prisoners, who were already serving life sentences for murder, are now being held in the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, the state's supermax prison in Baltimore.
That prisoners were able to jam the door locks and escape from their cells to kill a guard has drawn attention to the physical structure of the ancient prison. Built in 1878, the 1,100 bed maximum-security Maryland House of Correction is "an old, poorly designed prison that doesn't lend itself to good safety and security," said former Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) Commissioner Frank C. Sizer, who abruptly retired on August 23, 2006 following McGuinn's murder. Timothy Maloney, former chairman of the public safety subcommittee in Maryland's House of Delegates, said it was outrageous that MHC remains standing. "It probably violates every known modern correctional design standard," he remarked.
For those who've been imprisoned at the facility, MHC is a place they don't want to remember. Fights are common and occur "pretty much every other day," said Barney McNeal, 40, who served 18 months at MHC from 1998 to 2000. "If you really want to do something to somebody, you can because there weren't enough corrections officers," he said. "Pretty much the inmates run the place. You're dealing with guys with heavy time there, guys who aren?t coming home."
The situation at MHC has only worsened over the past year. In a span of just four months in 2006, at least 8 stabbing incidents resulted in the deaths of 3 prisoners as well as the fatal attack on McGuinn.
On March 29, 2006, guard Dontae Malone was assaulted by three prisoners - two of whom had shanks - as he made his rounds. Sergeant Damean Stewart was also stabbed when he tried to intervene. Prisoners Donta Walker, 23, Brian Troxler, 24, and Cedric Chamber, 37, were charged with first and second degree attempted murder and ten other counts. The prisoners, all convicted murderers, were already serving 80-year and life sentences.
Since Maryland's parole board and governor rarely if ever release life sentenced prisoners, Maryland has thousands of prisoners with little to lose under the state's de facto life without parole scheme.
On May 12, prisoner Willie Williams Jr., 34, was found dead in his cell with two puncture wounds and tape around his neck. Williams had been serving 10 years for non-violent credit card fraud and property crimes. His death is being investigated as a homicide.
Ten days later on May 22, three unidentified prisoners were attacked and shanked by three other prisoners wielding homemade knives. One of the victims, a 29-year-old man serving 30 years for murder, died from his wounds. The attack occurred in a dormitory that houses up to 90 prisoners.
Another fatal stabbing occurred on July 11, 2006 as a prisoner headed in from the recreation yard at about 2:40 p.m. Guards saw the attack and confiscated the assailant's weapon. The unidentified prisoner died at a local hospital about an hour later.
Then on July 25, McGuinn was stabbed to death. His was the second murder of a Maryland prison guard that year. The first occurred on January 26, 2006 when prisoner Brandon T. Morris, 20, who was confined at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, allegedly took a gun from guard Jeffrey A. Wroten, 44, and shot him in the face. Morris, who had been admitted to a Washington County hospital for surgery a day earlier for a self-inflicted wound to his abdomen, later claimed he didn't remember the incident.
Morris said he went to sleep shackled to the bed and awoke outside in his underwear about six miles away surrounded by police. "I just went to sleep and I woke up and I was out of bed," he reportedly told a state trooper. Morris may have been suffering from the side effects of post-surgery drugs. Regardless, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Maintaining control at MHC is a challenge because many of the guards grew up in the same impoverished neighborhoods around Baltimore as the prisoners. "Most know the inmates because they grew up together," said Melton Williams, 50, who spent 23 years in prison for murder, including time at MHC.
"They dated the same girls and went to the same schools," he said. "They are the same ones now turning the locks and the ones who are supposed to maintain control.... It's very difficult."
Williams went on to say that there are men at MHC in their 20s who have been sentenced to multiple life sentences with no hope of ever being released; they stop caring about themselves or anyone else. "There's really nothing in that place to give you any inspiration to make you want to better your life.... You have to tell yourself, 'I want to be a better human being even if I die in here.' There is so much apathy, so much hopelessness," he said.
Contraband is so prevalent that MHC has become informally known as the "House of Corruption" among guards. To stem the flow of tobacco, drugs, cellphones and other prohibited items, prison officials recently installed screening devices that visitors and staff must pass through to enter the facility. But the measures have done little to alleviate the problem.
Erika Ballard, the former MHC employee, said some guards can't resist cashing in on the lucrative contraband trade. "A cell phone was $300 - $100 more if you would bring in a charger," she said. "Tobacco is a very big business in there. An $8 can of tobacco sells for $150" inside the prison. She accused supervisors of sometimes calling prisoners on their cell phones to warn them of impending cell searches. "Somebody really needs to investigate that place," Ballard stated. "That place is corrupt from top to bottom." More than 300 cellphones were confiscated in 2005, said DPSCS spokeswoman Priscilla Dogget.
Amid a flurry of criticism, prison officials announced on September 28, 2006 that MHC will be downgraded to a minimum-security facility by March 2007. Many of the high security prisoners at MHC have already been transferred to the adjacent Maryland Correctional Institution and the supermax prison in Baltimore, said Acting Commissioner John A. Rowley, who succeeded Sizer. Other maximum-security prisoners will be moved to the North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland when that prison's second housing unit opens in early 2007. North Branch, which touts such high-tech features as secret control rooms and the latest surveillance equipment, was profiled on the National Geographic Channel's program Superstructures.
Other Prison and Jail Violence
The problems facing MHC exist systemwide, and everybody knows it. Senator Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George?s) noted that Maryland is one of the nation?s wealthiest states and should have an exemplary prison system. But, he lamented, the system is currently "in crisis." Senator James E. DeGrange (D-Anne Arundel) offered similar sentiments. "I'm scared to death that someone else is going to die in these institutions," he said. "I see other facilities ready to explode."
As previously extensively reported in PLN, other Maryland prisons are already exploding. At the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, for example, a 23-year-old unidentified prisoner was stabbed several times on the prison recreation yard. No guards observed the March 21, 2006 assault. The victim, who was serving a 3-year sentence for drug and weapons charges, was expected to survive.
Another stabbing occurred at the maximum-security Jessup Correctional Institution - formerly known as the MCH Annex - on September 4, 2006. This time a guard was targeted. The unnamed guard was transported to a local hospital with non-fatal injuries to his upper torso. The unidentified assailant was arrested and guards said they recovered a shank.
In further violence at Jessup, a fight between eight prisoners erupted in a prison dayroom at 9:30 p.m. on September 16. Following the melee, which guards quelled with pepper spray, four prisoners were transported to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center with stab wounds, said Lt. Russell Davies, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel Fire Department.
On December 9, 2006 a Jessup prisoner was killed despite having been placed in protective custody. The body of Richard W. Spicknall, 34, was found in a shower area; his death was ruled a "homicide by general asphyxia." Less than three weeks later, three guards at the facility were stabbed by a prisoner serving a life sentence. The guards suffered injuries to the face, neck and hands; prison officials said the wounds were not serious.
As a testament to the DPSCS's endemic problems, even the state's lower security prisons are plagued by violence. The Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC), a 2,700-bed medium-security prison south of Hagerstown, is a prime example. On the evening of March 21, 2006, two prisoners were stabbed at the facility in separate fights occurring 10 or 15 minutes apart. Both prisoners sustained life-threatening injuries; it's unknown if they survived. The next day four guards were hurt in a scuffle with a prisoner in segregation. The unnamed prisoner allegedly struck one of the guards in the head with his handcuffs. Three other guards suffered minor abrasions when they tried to help.
A larger imbroglio erupted on July 26, 2006 when about two dozen prisoners began fighting as they returned to their housing areas after lunch. Officials said the fight was broken up within minutes and no one suffered injuries requiring hospitalization. And on October 11, two guards were reportedly punched in the face by prisoners, again in separate incidents occurring about 15 minutes apart. In the first incident, which occurred around 1:15 p.m., a guard was assaulted when he tried to handcuff a prisoner returning from a recreation area. In the second assault, the guard was bit after he ordered two prisoners off the rec yard. They refused and the guard called for help. When other guards arrived and tried to handcuff the prisoners, one of them punched a guard in the face and the other unsuccessfully lunged at another guard.
Two fights occurred at the medium-security Roxbury facility on November 23, 2006, sending two prisoners to the hospital for emergency surgery. Four other prisoners were injured; prison officials said the attacks were likely planned.
Problems have also continued to surface at the state-run torture chamber known as the Baltimore City Detention Center. In a letter sent to DPSCS Secretary Mary Ann Saar on October 9, 2006 following the stabbings of two men at the facility a day earlier - one of them fatally - Kimberly Haven, executive director of Justice Maryland, asked for an emergency meeting with jail officials. "My office continues to get letters from inmates asking for help, phone calls from concerned family members, and visits from correctional officers who are concerned about their safety and ability to do their jobs," Haven wrote. She said prisoners have told her they strap magazines to their chest under their shirts as makeshift body armor to protect them from knife attacks when they leave their cells for meals.
The situation is so bad that attorneys are reportedly reluctant to visit their clients at the jail. "It's definitely a civil rights issue," said Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore NAACP chapter. "These institutions hold people who are awaiting trials. Their civil rights are being jeopardized by being in these institutions. They have [the] right to live to see their trials, without being attacked or killed."
Mary Livers, deputy secretary for DPSCS operations, responded by noting that the jail is violent because it's full of violent people. The same people "who are terrorizing the citizens in Baltimore City are continuing their dangerous and menacing behavior once they are incarcerated," she said. But if Livers' logic is correct, then why isn't every jail and prison in America equally as deadly?
Livers also failed to mention the jail's vicious guards. In May 2005, prisoner Raymond K. Smoot, 51, was beaten to death in a free-for-all that reportedly involved 20 to 25 state jailers. Eight were later fired, and three were charged in his death. Only a single guard was convicted, however. On October 12, 2006, a Baltimore jury found former guard Dameon C. Woods guilty of unintentional second degree murder and two counts of first and second degree assault. Woods and former guard James L. Hatcher, who was acquitted, sobbed following the verdict. A week earlier Circuit Court Judge John M. Glynn had dismissed charges against the third guard, Nathan D. Colbert, citing contradictory testimony by prosecutors. Colbert later returned to work at the jail.
This was despite former guard Kandis Harelee's testimony that she saw all three guards attack Smoot. "I saw officer Woods, Hatcher and Colbert stomping with an up-and-down motion," she said. Smoot's family was understandably disappointed. "There was eight of them that stomped him. [Authorities] only got one," said James Smoot, the victim's older brother.
Woods was sentenced on December 12, 2006 to 20 years in prison. Raymond Smoot, who received a death sentence at the jail, had been arrested for failing to appear in court on a theft charge.
Abuse and Overcrowding In Juvenile Prisons
The situation at the state's juvenile centers is no better. A damning report released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on August 7, 2006, concluded that children held at the 144-bed Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center "suffer significant harm and risk of harm" due to chronic understaffing and other management problems. The report cited prisoner-on-prisoner assault rates that were 47% higher than the national average for juvenile prisons, inadequate suicide prevention efforts, and poor behavior management and treatment plans.
Maryland juvenile services officials argued that the issues raised in the report, based on inspections conducted a year earlier, had significantly improved since that time. Child advocates disagreed. In an August 31, 2006 letter to Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague, Jr., Katherine A. Perez, the state's independent monitor of juvenile prisons, complained of "ongoing issues of staffing shortages and the threat to life, health and safety" of children at the Baltimore facility. Rather than take any corrective action, Montague said his staff planned to meet with DOJ officials in November to ask them to reevaluate their position.
Prior to the DOJ report, Perez had released two blistering reports of her own. During surprise visits to state juvenile prisons, Perez had witnessed a girl being punched by a guard at one facility, and another so overcrowded that boys were forced to sleep on a bathroom floor.
In February 2006, Perez said she and a colleague watched as a male guard at the Waxter Children's Center dealt with a girl who had made a derogatory comment. The girl was taken to a seclusion room where the monitors heard the girl yelling "Don't touch me" and "Get off my stomach," according to the report. As the situation escalated, the monitors began watching through a window in the door. They saw the guard move toward the girl with a raised fist after she spit at him, and a female guard try to push him away. "He again moved toward her and was able to swing at the youth twice," the report stated. "The monitors were unable to see where the punches landed. [Two] female staff members then restrained the male staff member by pushing him out of the room." If guards act like this while being observed, what barbarities are they capable of when no one's watching?
In a second report based on a March 2006 visit to the Lower Eastern Shore Children's Center, the monitors discovered 31 boys crammed into a prison designed for 24. Three boys were sleeping in plastic "boats," or makeshift cots, in bathrooms; others were crowded into boats in bedrooms designed for a single occupant. Perez and a colleague found one boy sleeping with his head on a pillow next to the base of a toilet. A staff member said the boy "had to be awakened to stand outside and allow for other youths to use the bathroom," according to the report. Juvenile services officials responded by saying Perez was "making an assumption" about the boy having to be awakened. "Staff reported that no youth used the restroom the night the monitor is referring to," the department said. Regarding the monitor's concerns about overcrowding, the response was equally idiotic. "Please define overcrowded conditions," department officials wrote. "Kids sleeping in bathrooms," perhaps?
Following the release of the reports, Secretary Montague expressed his indignation - but not at the reports' findings. Instead, Montague attacked Perez for not having followed proper procedure in releasing them. "This failure compromises our ability to work with the monitor," Montague fumed. Perez said she was just doing her job. "I have no ax to grind," she retorted.
Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a leading advocate for juvenile offenders, criticized Montague for his response. "The [juvenile services] department should be looking at ways to address these problems, not blaming the person who discovered [them]," Busch said. It should be "appalling to anybody who lives in Maryland that we have kids sleeping in restrooms and male staff members abusing girls," he added, noting that Perez had properly exposed those conditions in her reports. Another critic, Stacey Gurian-Sherman of JJ FAIR, a non-profit advocacy group, summed up the juvenile services department in two words: "beyond dysfunctional." Despite Montague's knee-jerk denials, Deputy Secretary of Operations Carl Sanniti resigned one week after the reports were made public.
Other incidents have further tarnished the department's image. At a juvenile prison in Hagerstown, a guard was forced to resign on May 15, 2006 after a surveillance camera caught him punching a boy in the mouth. One day later, two juveniles at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center were involved in a fight; one was hospitalized.
In June, Perez released another report accusing staff at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County of having falsified training records for more than a year. "Staff members stated that the training coordinator instructed them to falsify their timesheets by adding 8 to 16 hours of overtime for training that had not occurred," the report said.
Improper overtime payments of $6,500 to $7,000 were made to 11 employees, juvenile department spokesman Edward Hopkins admitted. "Not everyone that participated took the overtime," he said. "Those that did have been demoted and ordered to repay the monies that were paid to them in overtime." Cheltenham's training coordinator was fired.
As with adult prisons, child advocates say low pay and high turnover contribute to the turmoil in the juvenile system. In 2004, the Baltimore Sun reported that juvenile service workers in Maryland earned 8% to 34% less than those in nearby states.
The murders of prison guards McGuinn and Wroten raised numerous concerns, not just with the violence in Maryland prisons but also with departmental priorities, staff shortages and employee integrity. Following the two deaths, state officials promised $5 million for a variety of safety equipment, including stab-proof vests and additional video-surveillance cameras. (Note: McGuinn was wearing a stab-proof vest when he was attacked). Legislators also called an emergency session on August 8, 2006 to discuss the ongoing prison crisis.
One concern was DPSCS Secretary Mary Ann Saar's Project Restart, a broad plan aimed at increasing prisoner education, substance abuse treatment services and re-entry programs. Saar told legislators the key to operating safe prisons is well-trained and properly equipped guards and "appropriate programs for inmates," so they stay occupied and develop skills to help them succeed when they are released. Saar noted that Pennsylvania and Virginia - states with much lower rates of prisoner assaults than Maryland - provide many more rehabilitation programs. "That is where corrections needs to be," Saar said. "There is a direct correlation."
Despite their moniker, many so-called "correctional officers" believe that more money should be spent on security and less on corrective rehabilitation. "I believe Secretary Saar should be terminated from her position or hand in her resignation," said M. Kim Howard, President of the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union. "Two corrections officers have been killed on her watch. I think she's trying to run it [the prison system] like it's a college campus instead of a penal system."
Another prominent issue was the pervasive staff shortage. A report by legislative analysts found that vacancies in the DPSCS nearly tripled between fiscal years 2003 and 2005, from 3.5% to 9.5% (MHC had 47 guard vacancies in July 2006 when McGuinn was stabbed to death). In addition, more than 150 positions and $5.6 million in overtime spending were cut during the same time period, said one analyst.
Acting corrections commissioner John A. Rowley opined that recruiting guards was difficult because the state's economy is doing well and people looking for jobs have better options. Saar said staffing shortages were not factors in the deaths of McGuinn and Wroten. Rather, she suggested the rising violence was due to gang activity. According to Maryland gang experts, more than 250 gangs with 1,900 members reside within the walls of the Jessup prison complex, which includes MHC and five other prisons. Phil Smith, the DOC's intelligence lieutenant, said some of the gangs are extremely violent and live by a simple credo: "What's mine is mine; what's yours is mine." Taking prison official's numbers at face value means a "gang" can average less than four members.
On December 15, 2006, James V. Peguese, assistant commissioner for the Division of Corrections, candidly admitted that the state was unable to provide a safe prison environment. During an Anne Arundel Circuit Court hearing on protecting the identity of prison snitches, Peguese acknowledged that snitches are routinely assaulted, even in protective custody. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we've got everything under control," he said. "Unfortunately, people die in prison so we don't have a perfect record."
State officials are considering the extreme option of transferring prison snitches to out-of-state facilities to keep them safe, an expensive proposition.
The Cost of Violence
In the end it may not be humanitarian or rehabilitative efforts or a sense of social responsibility that brings reform to Maryland's prison system; instead, it may be cost.
Unable to fill staff positions in its dangerous and deadly prisons, the state nearly doubled its overtime spending in fiscal year 2005-2006, from $14.8 million to $28.3 million, despite cuts intended to reduce such costs. As of August 2006, about 10% of the state?s 6,300 prison guard positions were vacant, and some facilities had vacancy rates as high as 30%. "This is exactly the kind of situation that snowballs," said Sue Esty, legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92. "Because there is not enough staff, you have a less safe situation, and more staff leaves."
The prison system will have another vacancy on January 17, 2007, when DPSCS Secretary Saar has announced she will resign. Gary Maynard, former director of the Iowa prison system, will replace her.
Prosecution costs are also up. In Anne Arundel County, where MHC is located, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said he would prosecute no new cases arising out of the Jessup prison complex unless the state subsidizes the cost. Weathersbee said prison crimes take "about twice the amount of time as a regular case" to prosecute. Homicides, which are increasingly common at MHC, are especially taxing. Weathersbee recalled one prison murder case that went on for two years and cost $250,000. "There is a lot of money tied up in these prosecutions," he said.
The state also spends a small fortune treating those injured by prison violence. In the first six months of 2006, 257 of Maryland's 22,000 prisoners were hurt seriously enough in prison assaults to warrant trips to the hospital. Those emergency room expenses amounted to $860,000, according to the Baltimore Sun. And this doesn't include the cost borne by local counties for emergency hospital transportation. From January to September 2006, the Anne Arundel Fire Department dispatched ambulances to the Jessup prison complex 196 times, at a cost of $350 per trip. What's more, guards injured in prison assaults can draw up to two-thirds of their salary for up to a year as "accident leave." Combined, these costs easily amount to more than $1 million in 2006.
Justice Maryland Director Kimberly Haven said the state is paying the price for not funding the kind of rehabilitation programs shown to reduce prison violence. "We're not using our resources wisely, and we end up paying more in the long run," she said. "I can only imagine what programs we could put together with that million dollars, instead of prosecuting people and patching them up."
Perhaps a lighter pocketbook will prompt Maryland taxpayers, and lawmakers, to finally take notice. For more on Maryland prisons, see PLN, July 2005, p.1; October 2005, p.6; and August 2006, p.20. We have also reported fairly extensively on medical neglect within the Maryland prison system and its assorted other problems.
Sources: washingtonpost.com, wjla.com, The Baltimore Sun, examiner, corn, badcopnews.com, hometownannapolis.com, officer.com, herald-mail.com, wjz.com, washingtontimes.com, thewbalchannel.com, findlaw.com, wusa9.com, chron.com, corrections.com, centredaily.com, delmarvanow.com, washingtonjewishweek.com, certops.com, AP
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