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MCTC was early campus-style prison

Overcrowding is an ongoing issue

Overcrowding is an ongoing issue

August 05, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS and KAREN HANNA

Editor's note: This is the second of a three-part package of stories about the three state prisons south of Hagerstown.

Hundreds of men killed time by milling around as bat-wielding inmates played baseball on a field surrounded by barbed wire and monitored from above by an armed correctional officer.

On this day, unarmed correctional officers outside the field's fence stood watch at the Maryland Correctional Training Center as the men had their daily hour of recreation, many standing nearly shoulder to shoulder in cliques.

With about 2,900 inmates, MCTC is one of the biggest state prisons in the state.

The medium-security campus-style prison south of Hagerstown was dedicated in 1966. It was to house 1,100 inmates, prison officials said.

Even though the prison has more training shops than either the nearby Roxbury Correctional Institution or the Maryland Correctional Institution - the other prisons at the Roxbury Road complex - overcrowding overwhelms the programming that officials are able to offer, Warden D. Kenneth Horning said.

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When MCTC's inmate population hit 2,800, "It increased the idleness problem, so we need to find meaningful things to keep the inmates busy," Horning said. "(Like) the old saying, idle hands are the devil's workshop."

Division of Correction officials expect construction to begin on a $35.4 million housing unit in November, DOC spokeswoman Priscilla Doggett said.

Construction is expected to take about 30 months and be completed by June 2010, Doggett said.

When the housing unit is completed, MCTC will have an additional 384 beds, she said.

Prefabricated buildings currently house minimum-security, pre-release prisoners.

Those Quonset hut-style buildings were meant to provide temporary relief from overcrowding, Horning said.

Expected to be in use for six months, they have been sheltering inmates since 1992.

Large fans whirred as inmates read books or tried to sleep on beds, some with sheets draped over them to provide privacy of a sort for inmates sharing an open room with dozens of other men.

Cluttered shelves stood between bunks, and a chain-link fence stretched to the ceiling, separating one living space from a similar adjoining cage.

There were TVs on shelves. Peanut butter cookies, a book and other items were piled on one man's bed.

Correctional officers stationed in stifling glass-enclosed cubicles monitored the 66 men housed on either side of the fence separating the living areas.

One correctional officer said the inmates long for the privacy of their cells, but they enjoy the freedom of the huts' open housing.

Especially trustworthy inmates have keys to their own cells in more traditional housing units.

"They earn their way in here, and it's a privilege to have a key to their own cell, and once they earn it, they don't want to lose it," said Capt. Steven Myers, who has more than 21 years of correctional experience.

In other areas of the open-air campus, TV antennas stuck out of windows of some housing units.

Trash dotted the ground.

On the other side of a fence running perpendicular to the housing units is shop row, where inmates can learn skills such as masonry, auto repair, and heating, ventilation and cooling.

In Paul Willard's shop, students leveled off mortar and carefully laid bricks in neat rows. One student sat in a classroom taking a test about masonry.

An elaborate archway - a student project - and the facade of a fireplace spruced up the shop.

"It's like anything, everybody needs structure and when you're here, you're here for a job, and you're no longer in jail," said Willard, who had taught masonry in the prison for 10 years.

Work and classes aren't the only remnants of the freedom inmates left behind. Outside the yard, where inmates wait to return to the prison, some men find another diversion: The chance to buy ice cream at a concession stand.

As a bell rang signaling the end of the recreation hour, a few inmates raced past, perhaps, as one prison official suggested, because they wanted to be the first to hit the showers.

What's next

The Herald-Mail's special report, Doing Time, continues Sunday, Aug. 12, with a look inside the Roxbury Correctional Institution.

Our coverage includes interviews with correctional officers and inmates and a look at the economic impact the state prison complex has on Washington County.

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