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Overcrowding a concern at MCTC

September 29, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Breakfast at the Maryland Correctional Training Center begins as early as 4:30 a.m.

Staff members have to find unconventional ways to make sure everyone gets fed because the cafeteria built for 1,200 has to accommodate nearly 3,000 inmates.

Concerns about overcrowding was one issue raised during a tour Wednesday by the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which has influence over the Maryland General Assembly's spending decisions.

"Our staff does an exceptional job just to make this place work," said state Corrections Commissioner William W. Sondervan.

MCTC, one of three state prisons south of Hagerstown, was designed as a juvenile facility, but has housed adult medium-security prisoners since it was built in the mid-1960s.

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"Right from the start things haven't been exactly what they were supposed to have been, but we've managed," said Warden J. Michael Stouffer.

In 1981, military-style barracks were built to add more beds. In the so-called Quonset huts, bunk beds are lined up side by side.

Support service buildings weren't expanded when the beds were added.

Overcrowding is a concern the department is monitoring at all the prisons, said Secretary of Public Safety & Correctional Services Stuart O. Simms.

Staff members at MCTC took the opportunity to outline building projects they would like to see the legislature fund in upcoming years.

The tour began in the medical services area, which is so cramped that examination areas are separated by curtains instead of walls.

MCTC would like to add 5,000 square feet to the department at a cost of about $766,000.

MCTC has the poorest inmate-to-staff ratio of any medium-security prison in the state. The average housing unit officer is responsible for 90 inmates at a time.

That problem will be eased somewhat next year when 25 correctional officers will be added to the force of 484.

Several senators expressed concern that there are only nine black staff members at MCTC, where 75 percent of the inmates are black.

The biggest barrier is the fact that Washington County is a predominately white community, Sondervan said.

Also, a booming economy means that jobs that start at $24,000 a year aren't as attractive as they once were, he said.

It costs about $13,000 a year to house an inmate at MCTC. At other institutions in the state, the average cost is $17,000 to $25,000.

"It's very economical, but when do you then begin to squeeze the margins," Simms said.

Each year, the Budget and Taxation committee visits institutions across the state to get an idea of their needs, said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, vice chair of the committee.

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