Gangs feud over seniority and tobacco, said Stormes, who noted that a single cigarette costs between $1 and $3 on the inside.
High cost didn't deter Stormes' nicotine habit during his prison stay. He said he didn't have to go a day without lighting up.
"In an attempt to be kind, sometimes we aren't as strict as we should be."
Contraband is an area of concern, said Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard, who said he plans to update search procedures and make them more consistent for vendors, staff, inmates and visitors.
"In an attempt to be kind, sometimes we aren't as strict as we should be," he said.
Random "thorough searches" of employees are planned, Maynard said. As long as searches are random, and everyone knows they might be searched, thorough searches are fair, he said.
Even finding and confiscating contraband doesn't solve the problem.
When correctional officers find contraband at MCTC, someone doesn't get what they paid for and violence can result, Carbaugh said.
In 1991, MCI was one of the most violent prisons in Maryland, said Waters, who became warden at the prison following a riot in May 1991.
In that riot, officers and inmates were injured, electric panels were ripped out and sinks were ripped off the walls. It cost about $1 million to repair the damage.
On June 14 of this year, simultaneous fights involving hundreds of MCI inmates appeared to be gang-related, Rouse said in an interview the next day. An inmate with severe stab wounds was taken to Washington County Hospital, she said.
Some of the recent tension in the local prisons is related to the transfer of inmates from the House of Correction in Jessup after Gov. Martin O'Malley closed that prison in March, some inmates said.
The transfers resulted in "a lot of tension" because inmates from Jessup were uprooted from their jobs and routine, Stormes said.
Some correctional officers and inmates interviewed agreed the prisons don't have enough officers on staff to deal with the gang situation.
In the fiscal 1997 budget, 1,327 correctional officer positions were authorized for the three state prisons here. By fiscal year 2007, that number dropped to 1,233, data provided by the DOC shows.
"The staff we have is not enough to do all programs we're asked to do and be safe," Carbaugh said.
Remaining vigilant is one of the challenges of the job, he said.
The current fiscal year's budget provides $12.9 million for operations and security at correctional institutions, including 155 new correctional officer positions across the state.
Of the 155 new positions, 73 are earmarked for Washington County's three state prisons, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services told The Herald-Mail in January.
But Mark Vernarelli, public information director for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Tuesday the new positions had not been allocated.
On July 1, Del. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, became co-chair of the new Task Force to Study Prison Violence in Maryland. He said he believes staffing levels must be increased.
Staff writer Karen Hanna contributed to this story.