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Deaf ear turned toward prison crisis 7/2/05

July 05, 2005

By David McCauly

In 1998, I retired as a major from the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown. I was transferred to that facility in 1991 with Warden Lloyd "Pete" Waters after the serious prison riot of that year. Order was restored to that facility and the team created under the direction of the warden provided a relatively quiet prison environment for about 12 years.

At one time, the number of inmates at MCI-H on disciplinary segregation was only nine, a feat unlikely to be duplicated in any prison anywhere housing more than 1,800 inmates.

Warden Waters introduced an innovative approach that worked to maintain good order at that facility. The protection of the general public and staff and inmate safety were his primary objectives.

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Two years ago, Warden Waters also retired. His successful program of protecting the safety of staff and inmates was apparently retired with him. Why? Who is responsible? What are the primary objectives of Maryland Division of Correction now?

For the past year or so, I was perplexed to read about the many incidents in the Maryland Division of Correction. I have been equally disturbed by the lack of support seemingly offered to the prison employees, particularly in Washington County, by those representatives (i.e., Don Munson, Chris Shank, LeRoy Myers, Bob McKee, John Donoghue, etc.) as well as in other areas of the state.

Dealing with inmate violence is never an easy task. When you examine closely the incidents that continue to come out of the prisons (i.e., the Iko death at WCI, the Parker death on the transportation bus; the Smoot incident at Central Booking; the lieutenant's assault at ECI, the homicides and subsequent lockdown of the Maryland House of Correction and the Annex; the hostage situation at MCI-H etc.) it is obvious to me that something is seriously wrong within the Department of Public Safety.

This is also obvious to the employees of the state prison system as well as to many of the citizens of this state. Why the secretary of public safety seems unalarmed by these incidents as the outcry from staff and common citizens becomes louder eludes me.

The secretary and her staff, including the commissioner of correction, are those individuals entrusted to provide safety and security for both staff and inmates. The public information officer can offer "sound bites" to comment of those incidents but a loud alarm should be sounded to the secretary that something is dangerously wrong in her department.

If the prisons continue to deteriorate, the holes in the dam may be impossible to repair without more personal injury to staff and inmates. Staff complaints are echoing loud throughout the prison walls in regard to their personal safety. Citizens on the outside are crying over the senseless deaths of loved ones. I would urge the secretary to thoroughly examine the root causes of these incidents and strive to promote a safer environment for both staff and inmates.

If the secretary has difficulty accepting the fact that her prisons are becoming more and more unsafe, perhaps an unbiased staff survey might shed some light on how her staff feels about coming to work in today's prison environment.

The governor, unless he is asleep at the wheel, should understand fully that the public safety employees across the state, as well as the common citizens, seem to be losing confidence in the Department of Public Safety.

Although I no longer reside in Washington County, it also appears that my family, friends and past co-workers are also losing confidence in those political representatives entrusted to deal with their concerns about current prison conditions.

Perhaps it is time for some new leadership across the board. When Warden Waters retired, I asked then Commissioner of Corrections Bill Sondervan, "Who is going to keep them safe now?" in a letter printed on The Herald-Mail editorial page.

Leaders with vision are rare and never easily replaced. The Division of Correction has quickly learned this lesson in the two years since Waters' departure.

Warden Waters was and is still a leader with vision. He has many of the answers that elude the current public safety administration and Washington County's elected leadership.

David McCauly is a resident of Hollywood, Md.

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