Ask the Expert May/June 2007 – Incident Eradication

Few corrections professionals will ever have the opportunity to orchestrate the closure of a facility that is more than 100 years old while more than 800 inmates are occupying its cells (Read more on page 8 of the May/June issue or read the story online.). Gary Maynard, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections, did that just five weeks after taking office.

Maynard, who has more than 30 years of experience in the correctional industry and also serves as the president of the American Correctional Association, spoke with Correctional News during a phone interview from Maryland . He answered a combination of questions from Correctional News and readers who submitted inquiries for the inaugural installment of “Ask the Expert,” a new column that will appear regularly in the magazine.

Q: What was the most difficult aspect of closure of the House of Correction?

A: I think the logistics of moving the inmates to different facilities and moving inmates out of state were difficult. We had to make sure our standards and the standards of jurisdictions — relative to property and health screening — were the same. That was probably the hardest part, other than keeping the closure secret.

Q: How did you decide what information to release and when to release it?

A: We decided to close the facility on March 3. Prior to that we were just going to convert it to minimum security. I have 12 people on my staff, but I only involved four of them. The other eight staff members didn’t have a need to know, so I didn’t advise them.

My four staff members and the governor knew that if word got out and the maximum-security inmates found out that their world was changing, they could have taken it out on an officer. We put it in terms of staff safety: if the plan was revealed, someone could have gotten hurt.

Q: Were there any incidents or injuries?

A: There were no incidents during the relocation and transport. We had one inmate who refused to move, but he was lifted and carried part of the way to the other institution. We were just walking him from the House of Correction to the Jessup Correctional Institution.

Q: The transfer was the subject of a lot of media attention. How did you address the media?

A: We didn’t tell anybody. There was just a handful of people that knew all along. The transfer of inmates out of state was never detected and the media really never knew anything, or the public and employees at the institutions. The employees knew something was going on, but they didn’t associate it with the House of Correction being closed. Nobody thought that would be the case.

Q: How did the media eventually find out?

A: They received a tip. We were holding our breath because of the issue of staff safety, and if the media found out there could have been people on the outside who could attempt to hinder the transfer. Once the media called, we decided to release the information to everybody, including jail staff.

At that point, all of the maximum-security inmates were out and all we had left were 378 minimum-security inmates. We briefed the employees at shift briefings and we told them that they would still have their jobs. We transferred them to other facilities in the area. Within a one-mile radius of the House of Correction, there are four different prisons.

Q: Were there any complaints from staff?

A: No. We moved them over and told them they would have an opportunity to list their priorities after we gave them their initial assignment. Relocation will be based on seniority.

Q: Would you do anything differently if you had to close a facility again?

A: We would probably do our health screening earlier in the process for inmates who are transferred out of state. We didn’t have any concerns about health screening until the day before we were going to send the first busload and they needed different documentation for tuberculosis screening. We had to go back and create another set of documents.

We scrambled around to get that done, but I think if we had to do it again we would still provide information on a need-to-know basis. We were pretty fortunate, and if we made it public I think there is a chance that someone could have gotten hurt.

Q: Some people have said the House of Correction closure is only a temporary fix for problems within the Maryland prison system. What are your thoughts?

A: It’s the first step for a number of things that we need to do, but it solves the problem of that particular facility. It held about one-twentieth of the population and accounted for about 10 percent of all assaults on staff.

We still have other old institutions that are not as poorly designed as the House of Correction that we have plans to replace with other facilities. We have learned a lot about our system. We need a better centralized transportation system; we need to upgrade our case-management system; and we need to update our information technology system.

We need more drug treatment programs and prison industry jobs. There are a lot of things we need to do. This is just a first step so we don’t have to focus on that problem and we can focus on some of the other issues.

Q: Based on your several years of experience in the corrections industry, how would you rate the Maryland prison system on a one-to-10 scale? A 10 ranking would be ideal conditions.

A: I hate to put it on a scale. There are strengths and weaknesses in every system and there is no system in the country that has it all together. We all struggle, but there is no system that has been in distress as much has the Maryland system has been in distress during the last couple of years. Two officers and three inmates were killed in the past eight months, and three officers were stabbed in the past three months.

There is no other system that has had that kind of injury to staff and inmates in the United States . During this process, we have clearly identified areas that we need to work on and I feel more confident now that the staff is in a position to start working on those issues.

Q: Do you think building more hard, fortress-style facilities would have a positive effect on curbing prison violence?

A: I think you need to have adequate space for inmates that are intent on assaulting staff or inmates, or dangerous inmates that are intent on escaping and harming the public. We are phasing in a maximum-security facility at Cumberland , the North Branch Correctional Institution, which allowed us to successfully close the House of Correction. Once that facility is completely online, we will have 750 more high-security beds.

If you don’t have the capacity, you need to build it or get it from somewhere else. If you already have it, I would focus more on programs and things that keep offenders from coming back.

Q: What role do maximum-security facilities play in regard to being a deterrent to recidivism?

A: I don’t know if they play any part. I think they could be a deterrent to violent behavior if every inmate in the system knows if you assault an officer you are going to live in a certain place for a period of time. Out on the streets, I don’t think offenders thing that far ahead about where they would be living if they committed a crime. I think they are more impulsive than that.

Q: Do you think there will be more correctional construction projects in Maryland in the future?

A: We have a long-range construction plan, which includes some work coming online. We have some replacement housing planned for our jail in downtown Baltimore and in Hagerstown . Our population has actually decreased in the last three years, so we are not in a building crunch.

Q: On a lighter note, there are already rumors that the House of Correction could become a movie set.

A: I read that.

Q: Do you have any idea of what will become of that facility in the future?

A: No, I don’t. When I was a warden at a state penitentiary in Oklahoma we filmed a movie with Robert Mitchum and Wilford Brimley. More recently, when I was in Iowa a movie company contacted us to use some of our prisons, but we didn’t have any that were vacant and we weren’t able to accommodate them.

I think that there is a market out there and a facility, such as the House of Correction would be a good one.

Q: And, it seems like a good source of revenue.

A: Absolutely.

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