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Union officials, some lawmakers say Maynard's letter not enough

August 28, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Union officials and some local lawmakers on Wednesday said a letter from Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard that was published in Wednesday's Herald-Mail did not go far enough toward making amends to local prison employees who were strip searched Aug. 12.

Maynard was forthright in admitting what happened, however, and his letter was a step in the right direction, Del. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, said Wednesday.

Michael Stouffer, commissioner of the Division or Correction, is investigating the situation, and results of his inquiries should be reviewed publicly, Shank said.

"We shouldn't even be talking about strip searches of our state employees until we do absolutely everything to stem the flow of contraband from the obvious and known sources," Shank said.

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Known sources of contraband in the Hagerstown-area prisons include inmate contact visits and inmates on work release, he said.

"Why don't we agree to work on this problem rather than fighting about employee strip searches?" Shank said.

Ron Smith, a labor relations specialist for the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA), on Wednesday also blamed inmate contact visits for a majority of contraband inside prisons.

Shank and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, both said Wednesday they oppose allowing inmates to have contact visits.

At the Washington County Detention Center, where inmates are separated from visitors by plexiglass, contraband is less of a problem, Shank said.

The searches, which came after an IONSCAN counter-narcotic drug detection system indicated traces of drugs, turned up no contraband either on employees or in their vehicles, prison and union officials said a day after the searches.

Maryland Correctional Training Center Warden D. Kenneth Horning had requested that the Division of Correction Contraband Interdiction Team (CIT) perform the scans and searches because of a recent increase of contraband-related problems, including one fatal overdose, prison officials have said.

It seems that prison officials are more interested in monitoring their own employees than in watching the inmates who actually committed crimes, Myers said Wednesday.

Myers commended Stouffer for "attacking" the situation immediately and personally apologizing to the employees who were searched.

And much of Maynard's letter echoed what local delegates discussed with the secretary in the days following the searches, Myers said.

In a letter to the secretary dated Aug. 19, Myers, Shank and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, called on Maynard to stop strip searches of DOC employees "immediately and permanently."

In the letter, the delegates also demanded "accountability and responsibility for what happened at MCTC."

Shank said he plans to hold Maynard to a statement in the secretary's letter about taking disciplinary action as deemed appropriate, Shank said.

Shank on Wednesday blamed the local MCTC administration for the "grossly mismanaged" manner in which the searches were conducted, which seriously damaged the morale of the institution, he said.

Maynard clearly recognizes that DOC protocols were violated during the search, Shank said.

Myers said he believes labor unions need to be involved in a discussion about policy surrounding strip searches.

Employee safety is the No. 1 priority for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Patrick Moran, director of AFSCME Maryland.

Scans and searches may be done to ensure employee safety, but protocol must be followed, Moran said.

"We don't need employees' jobs at risk because someone didn't go through the proper procedures or someone's reputation being called into question because someone didn't follow proper guidelines on machinery," Moran said.

AFSCME representatives plan to meet Friday with Stouffer to further discuss the situation, Moran said.

MCEA has filed grievances with Horning on behalf of six of the nine employees who were searched, Smith said.

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