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Corrections personnel mourn slain officer

July 27, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The fatal stabbing Tuesday night of a correctional officer in Jessup, Md., stirred emotions among local officials and prison workers who in January mourned the shooting death of a Roxbury Correctional Institution correctional officer.

The killing of Maryland House of Correction officer David McGuinn less than six months after RCI officer Jeffery A. Wroten was shot in the face with his own gun inspired both sadness and anger.

On Wednesday, officials blamed a variety of factors for what some characterized as deteriorating security conditions in the prisons.

"I don't know if we're falling on deaf ears or money's the problem or what, but here we are again, another officer is killed," said Ray Lushbaugh, union steward for Teamsters Local 103, which represents some prison employees.

Two Maryland House of Correction inmates, who might have gotten free by jamming the locks of their cells, have been charged with attacking and killing McGuinn, 42, late Tuesday night as he performed a prison count, Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett said.

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McGuinn had worked in the prison system for two years, Doggett said. She said she could not release any other information about him.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he believed McGuinn's killing was gang-related. He said the General Assembly is working to replace the Maryland House of Correction, which he called "antiquated," and it is committed to providing security at the prisons.

"I don't know how to explain the fact that the prisoners escaped from their cells, but, if in fact they did escape from their cells, that's a very severe security breach and it needs to be paid attention yesterday," Munson said.

Understaffing, unreliable equipment and poor leadership are among the problems contributing to deteriorating working conditions at the prisons, Lushbaugh and other union representatives claimed.

"When you have more inmates, more dangerous inmates, it's the wrong time to cut the number of security employees, which this administration has done," said Sue Esty, legislative director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92.

For Maryland Correctional Institution officer Kenny Neely, conditions in the prisons have made going to work miserable.

"It used to be something I was proud of. I'm not anymore. It's just a job," Neely said. Because the prison is short-staffed, Neely said he typically works 48 hours a week, including shifts on Friday, the first day of his weekend.

While union representative and officers criticized the state for not providing adequate staffing, Munson said retroactive pay raises approved by the Maryland General Assembly in the spring have attracted new officers to prison facilities, especially in rural areas, such as the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.

"One thing that occurs to me is that when prisons were meaner places to be - meaner in terms of punishment and those type of things - we didn't have these incidents," Munson said.

A former Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate is accused of shooting Wroten, who was assigned to guard the prisoner as he underwent treatment at Washington County Hospital. Brandon Travon Morris could face the death penalty in the case.

He is scheduled to appear Monday in Washington County Circuit Court for a motions hearing.

Neely and other officers reached Wednesday said no matter who is involved, they feel a kinship with all officers in the prisons.

"I didn't know ... this gentleman, but as far as I'm concerned, he was a brother. He had a uniform on," Neely said of McGuinn.

Since retiring, former correctional officer Donny Seibert said he has watched most of his colleagues leave the prisons.

"Some of them would have liked to stay a little longer, but the conditions were just horrible," said Seibert, who was forced to retire in 2003 from Roxbury Correctional Institution because of injuries he suffered during an assault by an inmate.

Munson said he remains concerned about conditions in the prisons.

He pledged the General Assembly would remain committed to the prisons.

"And, I'm sure every senator in Maryland is concerned, and we are going to get to the bottom of this and make sure this never happens again," he said.

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