- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

JESSUP, Md. (AP) — State corrections officials have begun a review of the maximum-security Maryland House of Correction, where two correctional officers were seriously injured in an attack in March and three inmates have been killed since May.

“I’m taking a look at the total operation of the facility,” said Frank C. Sizer Jr., commissioner of correction for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Authorities have been on alert for further signs of unrest since the killing of a popular Sunni Muslim inmate leader and the stabbing of one of his friends at the prison, in Jessup.

Julius Pratt, 34, was found stabbed to death July 11 by a member of a rival religious group, the Lost and Found Nation of Islam. A Sunni Muslim friend of Pratt’s was stabbed a day earlier and received wound that life-threatening. One of two inmates killed in May also was a Sunni Muslim.

Authorities said they have found no evidence that the killings were related to religious or gang affiliation.

The Sunni Muslims are one of about a half-dozen Muslim groups in the Maryland House of Correction. More than a third of the prison’s 1,100 inmates are affiliated with Muslim groups, said Nancy Williams, director of religious services for the state prison system.

Maryland’s inmate population has long included many Muslims — primarily black men who convert to Islam while incarcerated, prison officials said.

At the House of Correction, the Sunnis are the largest group, with 157 members, Miss Williams said. Other groups include the Nation of Islam, affiliated with Louis Farrakhan, and the Lost and Found Nation of Islam.

Through some inmates become devout worshippers, others join religious groups as a way of meeting regularly with their peers, said Edward Cohn, executive director of the National Major Gang Task Force, a nonprofit Indiana-based organization that advises law-enforcement and prison administrators. He also said prison administrators are required by law to provide inmates with times and meeting places for religious services and that “a lot of the gangs use religion as an organizing point.”

Pratt, a murderer serving a life sentence, died after he was stabbed several times in the upper back with a homemade knife. His 35-year-old attacker, who has not been charged, ran past correctional officers to get to Pratt, officials said.

James Peguese, assistant commissioner in charge of security for the state prison system, told the Baltimore Sun that Pratt was a popular, well-known Muslim leader. “He had some status in the facility,” Mr. Peguese said in the paper’s Friday edition.

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