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Reader opinion

August 06, 2005

Bureaucrats have no idea about the real prison world

To the editor:

I am writing this in response to an article I read in your paper on Saturday, July 16, written by David Dishneau, Associated Press writer. It stated that Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar was to meet with state legislators regarding understaffing of corrections officers at many of the institutions in Maryland. As far as I know, this seems to be a problem at all institutions across the country.

My main concern with this letter is to address the local situation with the prisons located near Hagerstown. I think the general public, myself included, are very naive about how bad the situation truly is.

Several months ago my son applied for, and was accepted into, the academy to become a corrections officer. From what I understand, the local academy's training program is one of the best in the country. However, that does not mitigate the fact that there are too few officers to do the job.

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As my son went through the training, I was able to talk to him a few times each week. I think we both were astounded at some of the things he learned. In his words, "It has really opened my eyes." It sure did mine.

He would ask me questions to see how much I really knew about the three main units at Hagerstown, MCI, MCTC and Roxbury. He asked me, how many inmates are usually at these three facilities at any given time? My answer Maybe four to five thousand. No, he said, nine thousand! He then asked, "How many officers do you think are on duty at each facility at any given time?" I said probably 200 to 250. Wrong again. Seventy was his answer.

"You're kidding!" I said. "You mean, if the 9,000 inmates were divided equally between each of the three main units, there would be 3,000 at each facility, and only 70 officers at each unit, per shift?" He said, "Yes. We are so understaffed it's hard to believe."

Several weeks ago he went to work as a corrections officer, primarily at MCI. He asked how many officers I thought worked a tier or section. I don't know how many tiers or sections there are, but I thought probably five or six in each. Again, I was wrong. He informed me that only one officer is available at any given time to watch 80 to 100 inmates.

That doesn't mean that all he has to do is walk around and see what's going on. He has to also work the control board for individual cells, answer questions, write passes for inmates to access other areas of the prison, quell fights and disagreements, etc.

To top it all off, they have no weapons, of course. They simply have a walkie-talkie and some pepper spray. These ladies and gentlemen are basically in a war zone, with little or no defense. How well do any of the politicians think they would do in a situation like this?

Perhaps our fabulous governor and legislators should each spend a day walking the tiers with a guard. No bodyguards, no weapons and no one to "watch their backs." I wonder how much any of them truly know about the "real world" of prison life. How much does the public, myself included, really know? Not much, or they just don't care to know.

I am now getting a very "rude" awakening through my son. Apparently they are now on heightened alert because of something called "Black August" where corrections officers are targeted by a particular gang because of an incident that happened several years ago where an officer killed one of the gang members. Now he has heard that the powers that be are going to be further reducing the officer-to-inmate ratio by sending current officers to another facility in Cumberland, Md.

Isn't that just like those who sit in nice, comfy, plush surroundings to place the lives of others in greater peril? Starting to sound an awful lot like the Iraq War is happening right here on American soil, in American prisons, only these "soldiers" can't properly defend themselves if they are under attack.

How many of our officers are going to have to be attacked and killed before some knucklehead wakes up and decides that a 100-to-1 ratio is not quite right?

Marvin Robinson

Hagerstown

(Editor's note: Secretary Saar has written to say that as of July 25, the inmate population at the three local prisons was 6,480. Saar also said the total number of authorized correctional officer positions is 1,086, not including supervisors, food service workers, social workers, teachers, addictions counselors, clergy, case managers , psychologists, nurses, other medical personnel and State Use Industries employees.




Time for a county council of governments

To the editor:

Washington County finds itself in a bit of a sticky wicket. Our schools are crumbling and already at capacity, our roads can't handle existing traffic, our public water and sewer systems are straining to meet the demands and wells and septic are commingling through the limestone geology. Affordable housing is a rare commodity and all the stakeholders are just a wee bit miffed with each other.

And now, here comes growth.

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