Md. prisons chief says use of excessive force is 'rare,' requires quick action

April 03, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- When it occurs, the use of excessive force by prison staff requires quick, decisive action, according to Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard.

Sixteen correctional officers - eight from Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown and eight from North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md. - currently face allegations of using excessive force against inmates.

Termination has been recommended for eight RCI officers, an action that would require Maynard's approval, he said.

Excessive force by staff is possible in any prison system, but it does not happen often, Maynard said Tuesday during a meeting with reporters and editors at The Herald-Mail.

"It is rare ... When it does occur, you have to take quick, decisive action, not necessarily to make an example of people," but to stop it, Maynard said.


Most prison employees don't use excessive force and don't appreciate when their colleagues do, said Maynard, who was named to his post by Gov. Martin O'Malley in January 2007.

Maryland's prisons have had a national reputation as troubled, Maynard said. Two correctional officers, including Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Wroten, were killed on the job in 2006.

Overtime and shifts

Maynard discussed the hours worked by correctional officers, noting that, in some cases, officers work seven straight days, followed by two or three days off.

Overtime for officers costs about $53 million a year, Maynard said.

He said he has asked correctional officers to consider working 12-hour shifts, a move he said would enable people to take leave and personal time.

"All I want is them to take an open look at it" before they decide, said Maynard, who said he was not trying to force 12-hour shifts on the correctional officers.

Correctional officers have no interest in the plan, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spokesman said.

Maynard also said he plans to have an in-house staffing analysis performed to determine whether prisons are understaffed, as some correctional officers have charged, he said.

Fighting an image

Public perception of the prisons is one of the biggest challenges facing his department, Maynard said. A lot of the positive things that occur in the prison system don't make the front page of newspapers, he said.

The only way to change public opinion of inmates is to put them to work, Maynard said.

When that happens, the public sees "human beings out there trying to do better," he said.

Putting inmates to work also gives taxpayers a return on their investment in the prison system, he said. And it gives inmates a chance to learn the "soft skills" that will help them hold and retain jobs when they're released. Soft skills, such as respect, arriving to work on time and getting along with others, are necessary in the work world, the secretary said.

On a trip to Hagerstown in August 2007, Maynard said, he offered free inmate labor to municipal officials for local projects. No one has come forward with a project idea, he said.

"I get more out of inmates than most," Maynard was quoted as saying during a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce meeting on that visit. "Tell me where the dirtiest, ugliest place is, and I'll clean it up."

He made the offer to local officials throughout the state, and few have taken advantage of inmate labor, Maynard said.

Gangs behind bars

Maynard also discussed gang activity in Maryland's prisons.

In June, a gang task force will make a report to the governor and then make its findings public, he said.

From 2006 to 2007, Maryland's prison system saw almost a 62 percent increase in known gang members.

In 2006, the Division of Correction had 797 identified gang members, Rick Binetti, executive director of communications for the department said Wednesday. By 2007, the DOC had 1,292 known gang members, Binetti said.

Maynard's department would be responsible for carrying out the death penalty, although Maryland has effectively had a death-penalty moratorium since December 2006. The Maryland Court of Appeals said the state improperly adopted its death-penalty procedure and couldn't execute inmates until the problem was corrected.

Maynard said he has no opinion about the death penalty.

"If we have it, we will carry it out," said Maynard, who has carried out seven executions in other prison systems.

"Execution is a tough thing to do," he said.

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