Thursday, August 28, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) | A prison strip search of nine employees conducted to root out contraband “caused stress and embarrassment to some very fine employees,” Maryland’s top corrections official wrote Wednesday, promising it won’t happen again.

Gary Maynard, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, wrote that the Aug. 12 search at the Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown was done because of recent drug seizures and inmate overdoses at the prison.

“The facts are that a recent series of drug seizures and inmate overdoses, including one fatality, have compromised the safety of MCTC staff and inmates alike,” Mr. Maynard wrote in a letter to the editor of the Herald Mail of Hagerstown.

While the search was based on “a successful program used in our Baltimore prisons earlier this year,” Mr. Maynard wrote that “this particular operation fell short.”

“Unfortunately, this one did not go as well,” he wrote.

An investigation into whether screening machines were properly used and calibrated continues, Mr. Maynard wrote.

The department also is investigating whether the searches were conducted according to Division of Correction procedures.

“Disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate,” Mr. Maynard wrote.

Division of Correction Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer met with and apologized to the employees who were searched, according to Mr. Maynard’s letter.

Mr. Maynard also met with Washington County lawmakers, who have urged the department to continue with an investigation.

Prison officials said the searches were done after wand tests showed traces of drugs. No contraband was found.

Ronald Smith, a labor relations specialist for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said the group is discussing a possible civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the employees.

“No one that reports to work wants to be strip searched,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith also said corrections officials should focus more on contact visits by prisoners’ relatives, not employees.

“I think a lot of the contraband is passed during these visits,” Mr. Smith said.

Most of the workers who were searched were case managers and non-custodial personnel, Mr. Smith said, and only one or two were correctional officers.

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