A prisoner strike at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup appeared to be losing steam yesterday as half of the facility’s 1,228 inmates left their cells for breakfast.
About 165 of those inmates reported to work making license plates, wood furniture and mattresses, Maryland prison system spokesman David Towers said.
“It seems to be easing up a little bit,” he said. “I think they wanted to create a dialogue.”
Mr. Towers called the situation more of an airing of grievances than a protest. Inmates made about a dozen complaints, some as mundane as the food choices.
“They want a little bit more imaginative dietary menu,” Mr. Towers said.
Other complaints addressed such things as medical care, health inspections and vocational training.
Prison officials will consider such complaints, but not those over which they have no control.
That includes inmate opposition to mandated uniforms coming soon and the recently enacted prison smoking ban.
Earlier this month, officials banned the use of tobacco, matches and lighters at all of Maryland’s 25 state prisons, an order that partially settles a 7-year-old secondhand-smoke lawsuit.
Inmates were offered smoking-cessation classes, Mr. Towers said. Employees must abide by the ban as well, he said, and are allowed to smoke only in their cars.
The peaceful strike at the medium- and maximum-security prison began Monday morning with a small number of inmates refusing to leave their cells. Most of the others joined in by Tuesday, prompting corrections officers to feed them bag lunches in their cells.
The Maryland House of Correction is “probably one of the worst as far as reputation,” according to Bud Marshall, who sits on the parole board at the nearby Patuxent Institution.
“It’s a rough place,” he said. “Too many people. It’s old. It’s overcrowded.”
In February 1999, 19 inmates had to be transferred to the SuperMax facility in Baltimore during a drug crackdown. A small number of correctional officers had been smuggling the drugs into the Maryland House of Correction.
Later that year, four cellular phones were found, along with drugs, during searches. Also in 1999, four inmates attacked five correctional officers, stabbing two of them.