ANNAPOLIS – The troubled Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup will soon no longer hold some of the state’s most violent criminals.
Officials from the Department of Correctional Services told a General Assembly subcommittee Thursday that the 128-year-old prison is scheduled to become a minimum-security facility. Though they gave no date for the changeover, a leader of the union which represents corrections officers said it would be in January.
According to G. Lawrence Franklin, deputy secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, inmates currently in maximum-security confinement at Jessup will be sent to the high-tech North Branch Correctional Institute in Cumberland, a new prison which is slated to open in January.
Jessup prisoners in medium-security will be dispersed among other prisons throughout the state. The prison known most recently for its “violent history” will then become a minimum security prison, Franklin said.
The Jessup prison currently houses about 1,100 maximum and medium security prisoners.
“I think it’s an excellent start,” said Ron Bailey, executive director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 92 – the union that represents Maryland’s correctional officers, speaking about the decision to remove high-security prisoners from the Maryland House of Corrections.
Bailey said that the decision made sense “if you can’t provide adequate staffing or repair the building to keep a safe environment.”
Concerns over Maryland House of Correction’s aging facilities rose this summer after a number of violent incidents at Jessup. In late July, corrections officer David W. McGuinn was killed while on duty. Before that, at three inmates were killed in separate incidents.
Earlier this month an inmate was charged with attempted murder after stabbing a guard. His wounds were not life-threatening. On Sept. 15, four inmates were hospitalized after being stabbed during a fight in a prison recreation room.
“Realistically, the building is totally inadequate and the death of McGuinn…reinforced the decision that housing less secure inmates would be more appropriate,” said Bailey, the union official.
“Right now we are being defined by the struggles of a few institutions–and rightfully so,” said Acting Commissioner John A. Rowley during the Senate meeting on Thursday.
Upon Rowley’s request, Maryland recently bulked up prison security with a $5 million package that increased staff and will help pay for surveillance cameras and additional equipment for corrections officers.
“I think the most appropriate action would be to tear [Maryland House of Corrections] down but [this] is a start in the right direction,” said Bailey.
The new North Branch facility where maximum security inmates will be moved is one of the largest and most technologically advanced in the nation, complete with secret control rooms and the latest in security surveillance equipment.
While the physical structure was completed in 2003, officials must finish staffing the facility before January to be prepared for high security inmates. The National Geographic channel recently featured the state-of-the-art North Branch Correctional Institute on their program “Superstructures” posing the question: “Have designers really come up with an escape-proof prison?”