- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — State corrections officials are studying the growing numbers of Spanish-speaking and other gangs in prison amid mounting violence against prison workers, an agency spokeswoman said yesterday.

The study comes after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Wednesday linked gangs to the July 25 fatal stabbing of corrections Officer David McGuinn at the maximum-security Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.

Inmates Lamarr C. Harris and Lee E. Stephens have been charged with first-degree murder.

“The theory of the case developing in the latest incident is there is increasing gang presence — gangs who are increasingly violent, gangs who are more than willing to target tough correctional officers,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told the Cumberland Times-News.

Karen V. Poe, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the agency began addressing gang issues at a July 20 meeting in Baltimore. She said the meeting included officials from the state’s Division of Correction, parole and probation departments, and managers of correctional institutions.

Miss Poe also said corrections officials are considering a conference later this year that will include gang specialists from across the country.

She said gang problems include an influx of inmates affiliated with Spanish-speaking groups such as Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. Such gangs have become active in Maryland in recent years, leading to arrests and convictions of members whose language, dialects and social structure are foreign to prison workers.

“We need to look at communicating with them, understanding what they’re saying to one another,” Miss Poe said.

Ronald E. Smith, a former Maryland correctional officer now working for a prison workers union, said prison managers need more training to catch up with gang activity. Newly recruited correctional officers get just 90 minutes of training in gang recognition in the state academy and no continuing education on the subject, he said.

“Crips, Bloods, the Black Guerrilla Family, MS-13 — all of these gangs are in there, and they’re all fighting for territory and control of all the drugs that come into the prison, the flow of money — anything they can take to show that they have the authority there,” Mr. Smith said.

He also said that about two dozen inmates from competing gangs were involved in a July 26 brawl inside the medium-security Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Julius Pratt, a popular Sunni Muslim inmate leader at the Maryland House of Correction, purportedly was killed July 11 by a member of a different Muslim group.

The rate of assaults on correctional officers in the state’s maximum-security prisons nearly doubled from about 3.4 per 100 inmates in 2004 to 6.6 in 2005, according to a budget analysis by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

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