While inmate safety is one of the primary components to incarceration related issues, another key component would be the safety of the guards.
This is the concern of 23 new officers of the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections (PGCDoC) graduation held on July 19 graduation in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Department spokesperson Yolanda Evans mentioned 26 individuals completed the 16-week program, which involves everything from physical fitness exam to academic testing (three participants only did the academic component because they’ll not be supervising inmates).
These new grads are immediately placed at one of the county’s correctional facilities and guided by a senior officer for the next nine weeks. They join a staff of 453 other officers who are scatters across the southeastern Maryland county.
The Cumberland News Times reported the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have pressed upon Gary Maynard, Maryland State Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to deal with the recent increased assaults of correctional officers by inmates. AFSCME serves as the union for state correctional officers.
For the past two weeks North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI), located in western Maryland, there have been several incidents where NBCI officials allege inmates have assaulted officers – the most recent being an altercation on Tuesday where a correctional officer was treated at Western Maryland Regional Medical Center after an assault by two inmates.
On July 8, three officers were assaulted by inmates who are gang members in three separate incidents, and on Tuesday, two officers were assaulted by inmates who are gang members.
Patrick Moran, AFSCME Maryland President, remarked to The News Times that the he’s reached out to Maynard and asked that the department stop business as usual and take concrete steps to protect the safety of the hard-working correctional officers who work in our state’s prisons.
He went on to say,
Officers at NBCI were told in roll call that intelligence officers intercepted an inmate phone call tipping them off that the latest assaults were looming. They knew it was going to happen.
Why was the facility not put on lock down? What is the department’s plan to stop this spike in gang violence against correctional officers immediately? We want answers and we want action.
A former prison guard who now is retired and lives in Montgomery County remarked that prison guards, wardens and correctional system administrators have a target on their backs because many of the people incarcerated are angry and don’t have a proper way to release that anger.
He added that while he believes the officers get the proper training to do the job, but believes some of the facilities don’t offer the right equipment to carry that out.
Returning citizen Arnold Spivey believe part of the problem is overcrowding.
“If you look at these jails and prisons across America,” he said, “I think you’d see that men and women are being packed in these places and when you have people who already are in a bad place, and you keep packing people in – then sometimes you have situations where inmates might act first and think later”
In 2009, then- FBOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons) Director Harry Lappin spoke before a subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary where he agreed that overcrowding was a major concern in his office.
Correctional administrators agree that crowded prisons result in greater tension, frustration, and anger among the inmate population, which leads to conflicts and violence. Overcrowding overwhelms some of those officers.
Another problem is that guard hirings have not kept pace with the dramatic increase in the prisoner population. The 23 new correctional hires in Prince George’s County is a start, but many believe slow hirings isn’t enough. In an age where sequestration dominates the purse strings of many agencies, there’s a need for change and action.
It’s no guarantee that the situation in NBCI would be resolved with more staff, or with less inmates, but looking at some of the primary issues related to violence in America’s jails and prisons – one can’t overlook the possibility of relaxing the overcrowding component as a viable option.