Addressing Violence Inside Maryland Prisons

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Although the death penalty is set to end in Maryland prisons, the death toll in the state’s correctional facility’s continue to rise with alleged inmate-on-inmate homicides.

With the death of Javaughn Young, a 26-year-old inmate in Jessup state prison, the murder rate in Maryland prisons has risen to seven murders in the past seven months.
Young, who was housed in a 60-inmate wing, died from severe head trauma. Police have said another inmate is suspected in the attack.

“There aren’t any patterns or common circumstances that would indicate any issues related to the operational safety and security of our institutions,” said Gary Maynard, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS).

According to Richard Binetti, executive director at the department’s office of communications, there has been no change in security as there hasn’t been an increase of violence inside Maryland prisons. In fact, Maynard said, overall violence is actually trending down. Since 2007, serious assaults on correctional officers are down 65 percent and assaults on inmates are down 47 percent.

“In four out of the last six homicides, the cellmate is the main suspect. Generally, where the cellmate is involved, there aren’t any gang-related or pre-meditated ‘hit’ like circumstances involved,” Maynard said. “They are usually spontaneous, when one cellmate becomes angry enough to make a bad decision.”

The DPSCS is looking into assessing inmates with behavioral disorders as well as inmates with a mental health illness to better understand inmate violence.

“We’re looking at different variables of risk assessments so we can identify the predators from the prey,” said James Holwager, director of mental health services at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “We’re very encouraged by the programs we’ve developed to begin to better identify aggressive folks.”

It is well known within the system that if inmates are violent or disorderly they are sent to the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., Holwager said.

“Anecdotal information gives us the feeling that by bringing the people who have behavioral problems to western Maryland we’re reducing the problems in the rest of the state,” Holwager said. “Part of that is nobody wants to come to the mountains of western Maryland.”

These specialized facilities, as well as inmate programs that give inmates privileges and consequences in any given circumstance, allow the corrections department to better identify who the most dangerous inmates are and inmates capable of committing violent crimes.

“Now, the reality is, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” Holwager said.

Inmates with a mental illness are also kept in specialized units in order to address violent crimes, Holwager said, to increase safety.

“The mentally ill aren’t really involved in the homicides but they are potential victims in that they’re vulnerable in that they don’t see the world the way the rest of us see the world,” Holwager said.

Increased programs that keep inmates busy also help to reduce violent crime, Holwager said.

“The more we can develop a better use of the resources we have the more we can keep people more active and less dangerous,” Holwager said.

The department is conducting a mortality review on each death in Maryland correctional facilities in order to appropriately address any underlying issues in operations.