- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The chairman of a state Senate budget subcommittee expressed dissatisfaction yesterday with answers to questions about prison violence provided by correctional officials at a legislative committee hearing.

“I think we still need a lot more answers,” Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., said after a four-hour hearing held by subcommittees in the Senate and House of Delegates that oversee the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Mr. DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said he was “maybe a little more convinced now” than he was before the hearing that some changes may be needed in the state agency.

He didn’t specify names, but said his concerns reach to the top of the agency.

The committee summoned Mary Ann Saar, the state corrections secretary, to discuss escalating violence in state prisons that included the recent stabbing death of David McGuinn, 42, who was a correctional officer at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.

Miss Saar and four of her aides tried to reassure lawmakers that they are on top of the situation and are making strides in improving safety for correctional officers and inmates.

Democratic legislators seemed skeptical as they pressed for answers to a variety of questions, including why the department has not improved locks at the House of Correction and why it has not done more to bring up staffing levels in state prisons to authorized levels.

“Tell us what you are doing to make the prisons safe. That’s why we’re here,” said Delegate Charles Barkley, Montgomery County Democrat.

Miss Saar told lawmakers that staffing was not a factor in the stabbing of Officer McGuinn while he was checking prisoners last month because all of the guard posts in his part of the prison were fully staffed.

Frank Sizer, commissioner of the Division of Correction, said that a recent significant increase in salaries for correctional officers should help the department fill many of the vacancies in the prison complex at Jessup, including the House of Correction.

The division is close to reaching its targeted staffing levels at other prison complexes on the Eastern Shore, Baltimore and Western Maryland, Mr. Sizer said.

Some committee members said they are not satisfied with the study the agency used to determine how many correctional officers are needed at each prison.

“I’m not sure the amount of staffing is enough to make the prisons safe,” Mr. Barkley said.

There were reports after Officer McGuinn was killed that he was on an inmate “hit list,” and Mr. Sizer was questioned closely about what the division does to protect officers when threats are lodged against them.

He said officers may be moved to another area of the prison or inmates may be transferred to another prison.

However, he said it is impossible to take action every time a threat arises because “I would venture to say officers get threatened all the time. That’s the nature of the institution.”

Asked whether he was aware of a hit list at the House of Correction, Mr. Sizer said he had heard that one existed but had not seen it and did not know if there were any truth to the rumors.

At that point, Mr. DeGrange held up a piece of paper that he said was a hit list with the names of 20 officers.

After the meeting, Mr. DeGrange said he received the list yesterday morning just before the hearing from someone in the department.

“I believe it’s legitimate,” he said.

Mr. DeGrange said he could not understand why corrections officials had failed to replace or fix locks at the House of Correction that Mr. Sizer acknowledged could be jammed so that they don’t lock.

“You’d do it in your own home,” Mr. DeGrange said.

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