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Assault report confirms need for prison shake-up

August 11, 2006

Tuesday's hearing on prison violence in Maryland took four hours, but for some state lawmakers, that still wasn't long enough to get all of their questions answered.

It's time for Gov. Robert Ehrlich to shake things up. If that means dumping Mary Ann Saar, the state corrections secretary, so be it.

The hearing was set up after the stabbing death of David McGuinn, an officer at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, Md.

The antiquated institution, known as "The Cut" because of the frequency of violence there, has old locks that Frank Sizer Jr., commissioner of the Division of Correction, conceded inmates could jam open.

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The state has now contracted with a company to inspect and repair many of the hundreds of cell-door locks at the Jessup facility.

A new warden has been assigned there and Saar told The (Baltimore) Sun this week that there might be some high-level changes coming in her agency.

If that means that someone - and Sizer is a likely possibility - is going to be made a sacrificial lamb of sorts, that's not enough.

Why? Because on Tuesday, a legislative analyst told the lawmakers that between 2003 and 2005, inmate assaults on correctional officers doubled.

That coincided with cuts in positions, a reduction in overtime budgets and a growing list of unfilled vacancies.

Was Saar unaware of this trend? If she didn't know, then that's the mark of a poor manager. If she knew and didn't act, that says something worse.

To be fair, pay increases approved by the governor have reduced the list of vacancies. But we agree with state Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., who said that it will be difficult to fill vacancies if applicants fear for their lives.

We also agree with DeGrange that Saar's department must offer strategies on issues such as curbing gang activity and reducing the flow of contraband into the prisons.

Del. Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel, told The Sun she wouldn't oppose having an outside consultant look at the Jessup facility.

That's the wrong approach. If there is no one on Saar's staff who can do such an evaluation, then hire someone.

If there's no money in the budget for that, then Ehrlich must decide who gets the heave-ho to make room for someone with the expertise the system needs.

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