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Bill would change searches of Md. prison workers

March 17, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A Hagerstown correctional officer forced to remove his clothing in front of his supervisor as part of a search for drugs last year says the experience has made him the subject of ridicule and public humiliation.

Now, Joe Goodrich, a correctional officer sergeant at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, says he's supporting a bill introduced by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, that could prevent future improper searches.

"We had to take every bit of our clothing off in front of our supervisor," Goodrich said. "Talk about humiliating. That's humiliating."

He and George Keefer, who teaches inmates at MCTC and also was strip-searched during the same incident, testified Tuesday in Annapolis in favor of Shank's bill. The bill was heard by the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. No action was taken.

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Goodrich was one of nine MCTC employees who were strip-searched in August 2008, and Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Gary D. Maynard has said publicly that mistakes were made in the searches.

The department has taken no position on Shank's bill, according to spokesman Rick Binetti.

In August, a special Maryland Division of Correction Contraband Interdiction Team (CIT) conducted strip-searches after wand tests indicated traces of drugs. 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.

A similar incident occurred in a prison on the Eastern Shore.

Shank's bill would require that within 14 days of conducting a strip-search of prison employees, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services must forward a report to the Attorney General on actions taken during the strip-search. Under the bill, the secretary also must deliver a report to state lawmakers by the end of each year on strip-searches conducted during the previous 12 months that includes the number of strip-searches performed at each state prison and a compilation of the reports drafted after each search.

Shank said these changes would allow for independent oversight of the searches.

"If the division felt that a strip-search was imperative to check for contraband, the incident would be handled in an appropriate way," he said. "(Officials would) observe the employees' rights and protections, and follow the procedures to the letter, which in the incident that prompted this bill were blatantly disregarded."

Shank said an internal report was drafted from the MCTC search but requests from Goodrich and another searched officer were denied.

Shank also has requested the report but has not heard whether the state will provide the 300-page document to him.

The search

Shank said he originally thought of sponsoring legislation that would ban all strip-searches of prison employees. However, he decided that there could be some need for the searches, and decided to draft the current bill, which he said strikes a balance between security and employee dignity.

Goodrich said when he got to work Aug. 12, he was asked to get into a line with other employees waiting to be scanned for any trace of drugs.

When he was scanned, an alarm sounded and he was asked to get out of line, sign paperwork and go outside while an officer searched his vehicle. Goodrich said the officer only looked in the glove compartment.

After going back inside the prison, Goodrich was asked to go into the bathroom designated for those who are visiting someone in prison. He said the bathroom was "filthy dirty," and he was told to remove all of his clothing so officials could search for drugs.

Goodrich said the experience was humiliating and as word spread that he had been subjected to a strip-search, it impacted his personal and professional life.

Keefer, a 36-year MCTC employee, said the incident was emotional.

Goodrich said if proper procedures were followed, he never would have been strip-searched.

He also cited problems with the scanning device used to detect drugs on the employees and a lack of training among those performing the scans.

Binetti said the scanning device Goodrich referred to has not been used since the MCTC incident.

"Their use is on hold," he said. "That doesn't mean they won't be used in the future."

The correctional officers have filed a grievance with the state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services seeking financial restitution, among other things, according to the Maryland Classified Employees Association Inc.

Representatives from the MCEA and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were in Annapolis Tuesday to testify in favor of Shank's bill.

Binetti would not release information about the employee grievance, saying the department does not comment on personnel matters.

As part of their grievance, officers were seeking input in policies regarding employee strip-searches.

On Tuesday, they said a directive had been given regarding those policies. Goodrich said the employees were not included in the drafting of those policies.

Binetti said that following the August strip-searches at MCTC, Maynard directed employees not to perform such searches on employees without approval from Maynard or Stouffer. That policy has continued to be in place and is "in spirit" with what Tuesday's directive outlines, he said.

That directive will take effect in April.

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