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Protecting correctional officers is aim of state bills

February 07, 2002

Protecting correctional officers is aim of state bills



By LAURA ERNDE
laurae@herald-mail.com


ANNAPOLIS - Lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on two proposals designed to protect correctional officers.

A bill by Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, would help prevent inmates from filing false charges against correctional officers.

It would require the state's attorney to review accusations against correctional officers before any charges can be filed.

As it stands, inmates can go to court and file frivolous assault charges against correctional officers.

"Officers shouldn't be subject to this if it's false and fictitious," Melanie C. Pereira, director of the Howard County Department of Corrections, told the House Judiciary Committee.

Even when charges are dismissed, correctional officers have to pay legal fees to have the mark removed from their record.

Hecht said her proposal would give correctional officers the same protection given to police officers, firefighters and teachers.

A separate bill sponsored by another lawmaker is designed to shield correctional officers from indecent exposure by inmates.

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Courts have ruled that indecent exposure can't take place in jail because it's not considered a public place.

Del. Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore city, wants to change the law so the charge will stand up in court.

Prison administrators have tried punishing inmates by taking good time credits, taking away privileges and putting them in solitary confinement, Doory said.

Despite that, certain inmates continue the lewd behavior, she said.

Some people may think it's simply part of the job of a correctional officer to put up with the humiliation, said Sgt. Keith Quaine at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center.

"How would you feel if someone did the same to you, your wife, your daughter," he said.

Keshia Abrams, an Anne Arundel County correctional officer, told the committee how an inmate smiled and laughed as he exposed himself to her.

"I felt disgusted, ashamed, humiliated, and most of all defenseless," she said.

Similar legislation passed the House of Delegates last year but was killed in the Senate.

To become law, it must pass both chambers before April 9.

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