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Behind an officer's death

July 28, 2006

The Tuesday night stabbing of Officer David McGuinn at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, Md., is a tragedy, not only for the friends and family of the deceased, but because it signals another uptick in prison violence.

McGuinn is the second officer to die in the line of duty this year. On Jan. 27, Jeffery A. Wroten of Martinsburg, W.Va., was fatally shot at the Washington County Hospital, allegedly by an inmate he was guarding.

Prior to that, The Associated Press reports that the last correctional officer killed in the line of duty was Herman L. Toulson, who was at the Maryland Penitentiary.

When did that happen? In 1984, more than 20 years ago.

Both inmates and top officials of the Maryland Department of Correction tell us that today's inmates are, in general, more prone to violence than those in years past.

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At the same time, correctional officers say, the prisons are understaffed, in part because it is so difficult to recruit new officers.

Following McGuinn's death, state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, said that he and other members of the Maryland General Assembly want to "get to the bottom of this" and make sure it never happens again.

We have two suggestions:

Out of the 50 states, there must be one or more that has gotten a handle on the problem of inmate violence. Find out what works and adapt it to Maryland's correctional system.

Look at the motivation behind these crimes. We're not going to speculate on motives in cases that haven't gone to trial, but that doesn't mean we believe that there weren't any.

At some point, correctional officials have to look at what would cause someone - in a facility from which escape is unlikely - to commit a crime that would only result in more prison time.

Even if the reasons don't make sense, knowing why these things happened might keep similar tragedies from taking place in the future.

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