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Prison staffing reviewed amid lawmaker, union complaints

July 16, 2005|by DAVID DISHNEAU

By DAVID DISHNEAU

Associated Press Writer

HAGERSTOWN, MD - The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services began analyzing prison staffing levels Friday as part of a review that the agency said could lead to more correctional officers being placed at some prisons.

The announcement followed a meeting Wednesday between Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar and state legislators from Western Maryland regarding correctional officers' persistent complaints that Ehrlich administration policies have reduced staffing and security at prisons in Washington and Allegany counties.

Agency spokesman Mark Vernarelli said the staffing review had long been planned and was not a response to concerns raised at the meeting or to an alleged attempted sexual assault of a female officer last week by an inmate at Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown.

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Vernarelli said wardens and administrators at each of the agency's 27 institutions were submitting detailed reports Friday that will be used to analyze the staffing history and requirements of each correctional officer post. Vernarelli said the review was the first major analysis since a 2003 study that became the basis for staff reductions at some institutions and staff increases at others.

Vernarelli said he didn't know when any changes in staffing levels might result from the study.

He said Saar also is seeking ways to recruit and keep more correctional officers.

The Herald-Mail reported Friday that Saar and James C. DiPaula Jr., Gov. Robert Ehrlich's chief of staff, met for more than two hours Wednesday in Annapolis with Sen. John Hafer, R-Allegany; House Minority Leader George Edwards, R-Garrett; Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany; Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington; and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The (Baltimore) Sun reported details Friday of the attempted sexual assault, based on an internal report it obtained. Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the Division of Correction, confirmed the details to the AP.

According to the report, the officer was locking classrooms in the education building shortly after 8 p.m. when an inmate grabbed her around the neck, threw her to the ground and climbed on top of her. The officer said in her report that she kicked and screamed until the inmate ran off. She then used her radio to call for help.

The internal report quoted the officer as saying she had given the 31-year-old inmate permission to enter the building to use the restroom.

The inmate, who is in prison for the 1990 murder of a 13-year-old girl, was transferred from Hagerstown to the Supermax prison in Baltimore after the incident, Doggett said.

On Friday, Doggett said there were no charges yet in the incident, which still was under investigation.

Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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