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Task force on prison violence in Md. holds first meeting

June 19, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

TOWSON, Md. -- Members of a task force charged with studying prison violence met Wednesday afternoon in Towson.

The task force, chaired by Del. Christopher B. Shank. R-Washington, and state Sen. Verna Jones, D-Baltimore City, plans to meet again in July at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.

Jones and Shank plan on breaking the task force into three subcommittees, each to study a different subject related to prison violence. One group will study information related to the prison environment and health, while another will look at gangs, contraband and drugs in the prison system. The third group will research how other prison systems have dealt with issues of violence.

"I'm not interested in just putting a report together and having it sit on a shelf," Jones said.

Gary Maynard, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and a member of the task force, said Wednesday that most violence stems from gang influence, including drugs and other contraband.

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Collaboration between departments, both state and local, is key to preventing violence, said Donald W. DeVore, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS).

Collaboration between the prison system and local law enforcement also is important because those who are violent on the street are likely to be violent in prison, Maynard said. The convictions and sentences available in an inmate's file don't give prison officials much information about his or her violent nature, he said.

"I want local authorities to tell us who the bad apples are when they come in," Maynard said.

Legislators who created the task force designed it so that two former inmates -- one man and one woman -- were appointed. Ellsworth Johnson-Bey, founder and president of the Fraternal Order of X-Offenders, spoke during Wednesday's meeting.

The prison population must participate, and cannot be just spectators to any change, he said.

"Speaking as one who lived that life, I know the mentality of that population," Johnson-Bey said after Wednesday's meeting.

The task force will take a holistic perspective on prison violence, Shank said after the meeting. However, the impact of contraband and gang violence seem to be the most important issues, he said. Staffing also is an issue, he said.

Union representatives and corrections employees also were appointed to the task force, which was created by a state law passed during the 2007 legislative session.

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