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Lawmakers briefed on prison escape

January 27, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A convicted murderer who escaped from a Hagerstown-area prison Jan. 17 hid behind a Dumpster before scaling a fence, according to Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.

Routine checks to make sure all prisoners were accounted for were not performed properly, and the incident was blamed largely on "human error," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Myers and Munson attended a briefing Tuesday in Annapolis with Division of Correction Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer, where Stouffer explained that the Dumpster has been removed and negligent employees would be disciplined.

Other steps also are being taken at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown to prevent future escapes, delegation members said they learned from Stouffer.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, also attended Tuesday. All eight members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly were invited.

Four Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown officers have been suspended for their negligence in connection to Kandelario Garcia-Ramos' escape from prison, which is still under investigation. Ramos was captured five days after his escape.

Serafini said he appreciated the candidness of Tuesday's discussion with Stouffer, and that everyone should do what they can to prevent future escapes.

Myers said Ramos had no family, no friends and couldn't speak English - giving him plenty of time on his hands to plan his escape.

The delegation members were told adjustments were made to eliminate a "hidden corner" in the facility, Myers said.

Munson said he was told that Ramos acted alone, which eliminated an early fear that he was helped from someone inside the prison. He also was assured that two towers were manned despite early reports that they were not.

"As I understand it, certain checks on whether or not prisoners were in attendance were not completed accurately by people doing the checks," Munson said.

Munson said that years ago, money was removed from the state budget to replace and properly alarm fences at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown.

"In hindsight, that was a big mistake," he said.

Munson also suggested that officials place razor wire in between fences, and not just at the top of each of the two fences Ramos had to climb over in order to escape.

Shank suggested some improvements to the alerts that go out after a prisoner has escaped from the complex south of Hagerstown.

The current practice is for an air horn to sound, but Shank said it's unlikely that anyone in the nearby houses knows what that horn means. He suggested creating an alert system. Under his plan, if a prisoner escaped, everyone who signed up would receive a phone call alerting them of the situation.

Shank said the community deserves a better system alerting them of possible dangers in their neighborhoods.

"It has to be better than a 1950s-style air horn," he said.

Shank also suggested reactivating a community advisory committee that has oversight over all three prisons in the Hagerstown complex. Interest in the group has waned since its creation, but it is intended for community members who have concerns about the nearby prisons.

The recent escape could generate interest among people in serving on such a committee, Shank said.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Frederick and Washington counties, and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, did not attend Tuesday's briefing due to prior commitments.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, also did not attend, and could not be reached for comment.

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