Maryland Prison Employees Strip Searched After False Alert by Drug Scanning Machine
by Derek Limburg
Nine prison employees at the Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC) received the same treatment as prisoners upon their arrival at work on August 12, 2008. The employees, including guards and counselors, were strip-searched.
By request of MCTC’s Warden, D. Kenneth Horning, the Maryland Department of Corrections (MDOC) Contraband Interdiction Team set up an IONSCAN drug detection system at the front gate of the prison. As employees passed through the machine, it sounded an alert on nine staff members.
Those employees were escorted to a separate room and strip-searched. Females were searched by female guards and males were searched by male guards. No drugs were found on any of the employees or in their vehicles.
Larry Kump, regional governor of the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA), noted that the IONSCAN detector was either faulty or had been improperly operated. MCEA is the union that represents prison guards and other state employees; Kump stated they would file a grievance and were considering a lawsuit.
According to Warden Horning, the reason for the stepped-up scrutiny of drug smuggling by prison staff was a recent spike in prisoner overdoses, including one fatality. MDOC Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer admitted that mistakes had been made in regard to the staff strip searches.
The nine MCTC employees who were searched met with three local state delegates to discuss the incident. Delegate Christopher S. Shank stated that many, but not all, of the searches had included full cavity probes.
“They were humiliated by almost being treated like an inmate,” said delegate Leroy E. Myers, Jr. Of course, lawmakers rarely get upset when prisoners are subjected to unjustified strip searches, or when prison visitors are searched or denied visits due to false positive results from drug scanning machines.
Maryland prison rules state that anyone inside a prison may be searched at any time. However, Myers and Shank believe the searches were performed in violation of the regulations. The MDOC’s policy for strip searching employees was changed on August 27, 2008 to require the authorization of the Corrections Commissioner or the Secretary.
“I’m the commissioner, I’m responsible for this, and I’m accountable for it,” said Stouffer. “If we did something wrong, we’re going to fix it.” Stouffer suspended the use of the IONSCAN on MDOC employees – but not as to prisoners or prison visitors. Gary Maynard, Secretary of the Dept. of Public Safety and Correctional Services, promised that such incidents would not happen again.
Apparently the administration at Maryland’s Eastern Correctional Institution didn’t get the memo about improper employee strip searches, because in October 2008 three female staff members were strip-searched at Eastern in violation of MDOC policy.
No contraband was found, and Warden Kathleen S. Green apologized. “We had no right to do this,” she stated. “It is unfortunate that in our diligence to accomplish our mission that we have failed to follow our own directives.”
On February 10, 2009, MCEA issued a press release stating there had been no response from the MDOC concerning their formal grievance, which was being referred to an administrative law judge. Although the MDOC’s Internal Investigations Unit had completed a report into the August 12 strip searches, the department refused to release a copy of the report to one of the employees who had been searched, stating they were not a “‘person of interest’ with an enhanced right of access to the record in this case.”
Evidently, the MDOC treats its employees little better than its prisoners. ?
Sources: The Gazette, Associated Press
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