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Prison task force proposal hits snag

February 16, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A plan to study violence in Maryland's prisons hit a snag Thursday when some state senators objected to the study group.

One critic, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he would support a more balanced task force. He questioned why two former prisoners would serve and just one correctional officer.

At Munson's request, the Senate put the bill off for at least a day, enough time for an amendment to be crafted.

Sen. Verna L. Jones, D-Baltimore City, the sponsor, said in an interview later that an amendment to have two correctional officers - one male and one female - probably will be added to the bill.

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Jones has proposed a task force to study prison violence, including the role of illegal drugs, lead and other pollutants.

A fiscal note for the bill says the state Division of Correction had 155 inmate-on-staff assaults and 457 inmate-on-inmate assaults in three months last year.

The interim director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents correctional officers, has said violence and staffing are the union's top two concerns.

Last year, two state correctional officers were killed while on duty. One was Jeffery A. Wroten, a Roxbury Correctional Institution officer who was shot in the head, allegedly by an inmate he was guarding at Washington County Hospital.

The 13-member task force would include a delegate, a senator, the secretary of public safety and correctional services and the correction commissioner.

It also would include a state prison employee who belongs to AFSCME, the Justice Policy Institute, a prison reform advocacy group, a criminologist, a chemical engineering or toxicology expert, and two former inmates.

Jones' bill passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. It was in the Senate on Thursday for final passage, but ran into obstacles.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Harford/Baltimore County, wondered what the Justice Policy Institute was and why it was on the task force.

When he saw, on the Internet, a Justice Policy Institute report titled "The Dangers of Detention," Harris continued his protest, wondering if the group advocates the release of violent prisoners.

At its Web site, the institute, a nonprofit group, says it "promotes appropriate alternatives to incarceration."

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset/Wicomico/Worcester, called the task force heavy on the "cerebral" side, referring to academic types and other who don't work in prisons.

"The people on the ground, the people in the prison, know what's going on," Munson said.

On the Web at mlis.state.md.us: SB 69

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