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Senate committee reviews safety budget

January 31, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A discussion on Tuesday about Maryland's public safety budget touched on a few of the department's problems and possible solutions.

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials talked with a Senate budget subcommittee about the department's proposed $1.2 billion budget for fiscal 2008, up 3.7 percent from this year.

Gary D. Maynard, who was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley to be public safety secretary, was part of the discussion.

In a written report about the budget, G. Lawrence Franklin, who was interim secretary after Mary Ann Saar resigned, said overcrowded, aging prisons often force the department to house minimum-security prisoners at medium-security prisons.

John A. Rowley, the acting commissioner of the Division of Correction, which is part of the department, said the mingling of medium- and minimum-security prisoners sparks jealousy, frustration and intimidation, and leads to violence.

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"We have a design-capacity problem," Rowley said. "We far exceed what our institutions were built for."

O'Malley's proposed fiscal 2008 capital budget includes $32.6 million for a new 192-cell housing unit at Maryland Correctional Training Center, one of three state prisons south of Hagerstown. At two to a cell, the new unit could hold up to 384 prisoners.

A correction official has said that about 400 MCTC inmates, or close to 15 percent, live in Quonset huts that weren't meant to be dormitories.

The department's written report also says that in response to inmates walking away from work outside the prisons, it is increasing visits to the job sites and eliminating employers where walk-offs were most prevalent.

The report says the number of "bodily fluid" assaults - inmates throwing bodily fluids at staff and other inmates - went up in 2005 and 2006.

The department successfully cracked down, the report says, in part by punishing offenders by feeding them "special management meals." Rowley said prison employees combine and bake the separate components of a meal into a solid log that's just as nutritious but looks unappetizing.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, praised Rowley for being more open and receptive than the man he replaced, Frank C. Sizer.

"He's willing to listen to the people now," Munson said. "The previous commissioner didn't do much of that."

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