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Violence and prisons: Some options, please

September 19, 2006

The Friday stabbing of four inmates at the Jessup Correctional Institution underscores again the need for a long-term strategy not only to ensure officers' safety, but also to change the culture of prison violence.

This is an issue that needs to be debated in the Maryland governor's race, with the candidates offering specifics, as opposed to vague expressions of concern.

The latest assaults at Jessup took place shortly after 9 p.m. Friday in a recreation room. Prison officials said eight inmates were involved, including the four who were stabbed with homemade weapons.

Following the deaths of two correctional officers and three inmates this year, state officials promised $5 million for a variety of safety equipment, including stab-proof vests and additional video- surveillance cameras.

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We agree with correctional officers who say that new equipment is fine, but that without additional personnel, it won't mean much.

Securing the safety of the institutions must be the first priority, but second is finding a way to change a prison culture in which inmates don't seem to care about the consequences of their violent acts.

This was one goal of Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar's Project RESTART, which involved an increased number of counselors and inmate education to reduce inmates' idle time.

The program has been widely condemned by officers, who say it has made prisons less safe. But even Martin O'Malley, the Democratic challenger to Gov. Robert Ehrlich, doesn't want to scrap it.

"We need to do more with re-entry programs," he said.

Just what he has in mind would be nice to know before Nov. 7. If Gov. Ehrlich has plans to adjust his administration's security plans, let's hear about that now.

As we have said previously, we cannot believe that out of America's 50 states, there must be one that's doing a better job of maintaining security and preparing inmates to return to society.

The two contenders need to detail their plans now, so citizens can sort out what makes sense and what doesn't.

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