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Union leader asks Ehrlich for prison safety summit

March 31, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - In the wake of assaults on two correctional officers at the Maryland House of Correction at Jessup, the executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has called on Gov. Robert Ehrlich to call a "prison safety summit."

Ron Bailey, a former correctional officer, issued the call during a teleconference with journalists Thursday morning. The union represents correctional officers in Maryland.

The injured officers were reported stabbed Wednesday night during an attack by inmates. One officer was still hospitalized Thursday.

Bailey said the number of assaults in the state's prisons doubled from 2004 to 2005. He pressed for discussions with the governor that would include the ratio of correctional officers to inmates, equipment necessary to protect correctional officers and consideration of a yearly review of procedures and conditions at the prisons.

"We demand a dialogue, and we demand it now," Bailey said.

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He noted that correctional officers had warned that staff cuts in previous years would compromise the officers' safety.

"We take no pleasure in saying, 'I told you so,'" Bailey said.

Bailey also urged action on legislative proposals to protect correctional officers from assault with bodily fluids. He said inmates often throw a "corrections cocktail" of feces, urine or blood at correctional officers and such assaults have occurred 60 times at the House of Correction.

Two bills have been approved by the House of Delegates and are scheduled for hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

One would make assault with bodily fluids against a law enforcement officer a felony. The other would expand the definition of "law enforcement officer" to include a correctional officer.

Staffing issues prompted Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, to sponsor legislation to permit retired correctional officers to return to work to fill vacancies.

That bill has been approved in the House and was heard Thursday in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. There are more than 600 vacancies in the Division of Correction, officials say.

House bills 152, 214 and 1364

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