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Governor O'Malley tours local prison

February 12, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS

Correctional officers emerged from a meeting with Gov. Martin O'Malley on Monday with what one officer called a "long overdue" feeling of appreciation.

O'Malley and Gary D. Maynard, the state's acting secretary of public safety and correctional services, toured Maryland Correctional Training Center, then talked with officers, whose unions supported O'Malley during last year's campaign.

The visit came three weeks after O'Malley proposed about $42 million in MCTC upgrades and almost $7 million to hire 155 new correctional officers statewide - including 73 for Washington County - in next year's budget.

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"Thank you for your support and for keeping your word," Lt. Terry Hart told O'Malley as he gave the governor a Division of Correction hat with his name on the back.

The Democratic governor said the state, in recent years, had a zero-sum approach to inmate rehabilitation programs and correctional officer staffing: the former got money at the expense of the latter.

"We have to do more of both," he said. "It is not a matter of one or the other."

During Republican Robert Ehrlich's four years as governor, correctional officers criticized the administration's judgment on staffing.

When the rehabilitation program RESTART was introduced at MCTC, officers complained that diverting jobs to RESTART made their own work more dangerous.

"We felt forgotten about, abandoned," Capt. Steven Myers said. "As the governor said, it took a tragedy to draw attention to us."

One of the two correctional officers killed on duty in Maryland last year worked at Roxbury Correctional Institution in Washington County. Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten was shot in January 2006, allegedly by an inmate he was guarding at Washington County Hospital. Wroten died the next day.

In July, inmates allegedly attacked and stabbed Officer David McGuinn to death at Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.

Maynard said Monday that he will review the department's most recent staffing analysis to see if changes are needed.

The state's attention is "long overdue," Myers said.

Several state, Washington County and Hagerstown elected officials from both parties joined O'Malley at MCTC.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Ehrlich hired some officers last year, but O'Malley has a chance to add more because he inherited a better financial situation than Ehrlich did.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said the state struggled to fill positions while the economy was good. Ehrlich increased officers' pay, which helped, Edwards said.

The starting correctional officer salary rose from $28,126 in March 2006 to $34,313 in July, according to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

On April 30, 2006, the three prisons south of Hagerstown had 1,091 authorized correctional officer positions and 55 vacancies, or 5 percent.

As of Dec. 31, 2006, there were 1,112 authorized officer positions and one vacancy, or .09 percent.

O'Malley's budget includes $32.6 million for a 192-bed housing unit at MCTC that would hold as many as 384 inmates, at two per cell.

About 400 inmates have been staying in Quonset huts, prefabricated shelters pressed into service as dormitories about 25 years ago, said David Bezanson, the department's assistant secretary for property service.

The prison, which has about 2,730 inmates, will not add more because of the new housing unit, he said.

One Quonset hut will be demolished, one will be used for classrooms and one will become a shop for the prison's inmate industry division, Bezanson said.

The governor's proposed budget designates $9.8 million for a steam heating system at MCTC and to replace housing unit windows.

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