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Bill may stop jail 'cocktails'

February 02, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Of the hazards correctional officers face, the worst could be the "corrections cocktail."

Prisoners who throw blood, urine, seminal fluid or feces at correctional workers could face misdemeanor charges under a bill sponsored by Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

"This bill is actually fantastic for the correctional officers at all the facilities," said Sgt. Steve Berger, a correctional officer at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1772.

The legislation (H.B. 330) would set the penalty for an inmate who causes a correction employee to come into contact with blood, seminal fluid, urine or feces at a maximum $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison.

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Convicted prisoners could also lose eligibility for work release and home detention programs, "which I think is really going to be a deterrent," Hecht said.

Hecht said she became aware of the problem last year during tours of various prisons and jails with the House of Delegates subcommittee.

"Every time we go there and talk to the correctional officers, they bring this up," she said. "It's degrading for one thing, and, of course, it's a health issue."

Hecht said the problem is particularly bad at large facilities that house the most serious offenders. Often those prisoners feel they have nothing to lose, so they resort to harassing officers, she said.

"It's a serious situation," said Ray Lushbaugh, a correctional officer at the Maryland Correctional Institution and business agent for Teamsters Local 103. He said he has been a victim himself and estimated that such incidents take place weekly in the three-prison complex south of Hagerstown.

"It's part of the job, but certainly they should provide some (protection) for us," Lushbaugh said.

Berger said angry inmates sometimes put urine or other fluid in plastic honey containers, then aim them at the officers. "What's amazing is a human being would even think of that to do," he said.

But what angers many correctional officers even more than the offense is how inmates now are disciplined. Instead of being charged with assault in court, prisoners are usually dealt with by the institution, said Maxine Eldridge, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Division of Correction.

The problem with that, Berger said, is that the worst an inmate can expect is some lock-down time - where they spend most of their day in a cell - but no time added to their sentence.

"There's no recourse," he said.

Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades said the construction of the county Detention Center, with large cell doors and glass windows instead of bars, makes it difficult for inmates to come into close contact with the officers. With an inmate population of 325, there were five assaults against officers in 1996, he said.

But he said the legislation is needed for those facilities where there is open access between the prisoners and officers.

"I can see it being a problem," Mades said.

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