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How will Jessup's shutdown affect local prison complex?

March 20, 2007

On Friday March 2, an officer at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, Md., was taking an inmate back to his cell - alone - when he was attacked by four inmates.

His wife told The (Baltimore) Sun that before Edouardo F. Edouazin was stabbed, the inmates took the officer's radio so that he could not call for help.

In all, the 28-year-old Edouazin was stabbed seven times, but was treated and released from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center the same day as the attack occurred.

The stabbing was the last straw for Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard, who told The Sun he immediately began planning to shut down the prison, built more than 100 years ago.

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Inmates were moved in secret, according to The Associated Press, in groups of 15 to 40, with no advance notice. Most went to other facilities in Maryland, but officials said some of the "most disruptive" went to federal prisons or facilities in Kentucky and Virginia.

The decision to close the antiquated prison, with its outdated layout and faulty locking system, is certainly a step forward for the correctional officers who had to work there.

However, we have some questions about what it means for the state prison complex south of Hagerstown. They include:

Have some inmates been transferred to the Hagerstown area and if so, how long will they stay? We assume there will be a structure built to replace the House of Correction, but are we talking about a year or two, or more like five or six?

In January, Gov. Martin O'Malley's 2008 capital budget included a new Maryland Correctional Training Center housing unit, at a cost of $32.6 million. It would hold 384 inmates and would presumably replace Quonset huts that now house 400 at MCTC.

Will the huts come down when the new housing unit is done, or will they be used to increase the number on inmates at MCTC?

We ask these questions for two reasons. The first is, as we learned earlier this year, the cost of prosecuting inmate-on-inmate assaults is borne not by the state, but by the taxpayers of the county in which the crimes occur.

That means if Joe Jones from Baltimore attacks Sam Smith from Upper Marlboro in the exercise yard at MCTC, the Washington County State's Attorney will handle the case, at local expense.

We are also concerned about having more inmates at the local complex because that might mean more ex-offenders settling here after they have done their time.

Once someone has paid their debt to society, they deserve a fresh start. But there is a cost to providing supervision and other services to ex-offenders and Washington County already has its own home-grown ex-inmates to deal with.

Before all of these arrangements get set in stone, we urge the county's state lawmakers not to be shy about asking the tough questions.

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