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Maryland prisons chief says mistakes made during strip search at MCTC

August 27, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said mistakes were made when nine Maryland Correctional Training Center employees were strip searched Aug. 12 at the prison south of Hagerstown.

Secretary Gary D. Maynard, in a letter to the editor on the Opinion page in today's Herald-Mail, wrote that while the strip search was well-intentioned, "The hastily organized implementation of these procedures caused stress and embarrassment to some very fine employees."

Maynard said in the letter that Division of Correction Commissioner Michael Stouffer "has met with and personally apologized to those MCTC staff involved."

Stouffer said shortly after the search became public, he met personally with eight of the employees who were searched and spoke with another on the phone.

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A special Maryland Division of Correction Contraband Interdiction Team (CIT) conducted strip searches of nine employees at MCTC. The searches were conducted after wand tests indicated traces of drugs, but no contraband was found either on employees or in their vehicles, prison officials have said.

MCTC Warden D. Kenneth Horning had requested that the CIT perform the scans and searches because of a recent increase of contraband-related problems, prison officials have said.

Several of the employees who were searched met Aug. 13 with members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. Delegates described that meeting as emotional, and said several of the employees cried as they discussed the situation.

Referring to the way the procedures were conducted and its effect on employees, Maynard wrote, "My promise to them, along with Commissioner Stouffer's is that it won't happen again."

Rick Binetti, executive director of communication for the department, clarified that statement, saying Maynard was not available for an interview.

"The secretary is not saying the department will not continue stepped-up security efforts," Binetti said.

Rather, Binetti said, any increased security involving staff will be conducted properly, with respect and consistency.

All DOC employees know, however, that "The division maintains the right to strip search anyone if given probable cause," Binetti said.

Maynard wrote that a recent series of drug overdoses among inmates, including one fatality, prompted the scans and searches.

Maynard noted that an investigation into the scans and searches was being conducted, and that "Disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate."

Such disciplinary action, if warranted, could occur at all levels of the DOC, Binetti said.

In his letter, Maynard mentions meeting with some Washington County lawmakers, including state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Munson said Tuesday in a telephone interview that he met with Maynard last week and had the impression that "the secretary is doing everything he can to get a bad situation straight."

What happened during the scans and searches was a "comedy of errors," he said.

Munson said he requested that the IONSCANs not be used on employees, but on inmates and visitors.

The searches at MCTC were an extension of a trial program that the DOC implemented in the Baltimore area in March and April in an attempt to reduce contraband making its way into those prisons, Stouffer has said.

Ten contractual and DOC employees, including correctional officers, were released or resigned in lieu of termination during that trial program, Binetti said.

Scans and searches of employees were not the only security measures stepped up in Baltimore during that time. Perimeter security, surveillance and intelligence gathered from inside the prison all were a part of increased security, Binetti said.

"The division is investing in manpower and resources to make us better and more able to react and actually be more proactive in our approach to making the prison environment a more secure place to work," Binetti said.

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