JESSUP, Md. (WJZ) — The union representing correctional officers in Maryland says prisons are understaffed, leaving officers vulnerable to inmate attacks.

“The inmates are acutely aware of the staffing issue. They tell this to our members—the officers—on a regular basis. They are aware that they can cause a tremendous amount of mayhem—that they could do a lot of harm to the officers,“ said Patrick Moran of AFSCME.

Officials with the Department of Public Safety dispute that and accuse the union of exploiting an attack last week on an officer at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.

In that incident, authorities say an inmate beat and may have sexually assaulted a female officer. She had been on the job for a decade. Sources tell WJZ, the officer was left inside of a utility closet for almost two hours before anyone found her.

“Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time before an incident like this happened,“ said Moran.

Assistant Secretary of Public Safety, Gary McLhinney, told WJZ staffing is not a problem. “This had absolutely nothing to do with staffing levels. We are fully staffed. It is really irresponsible for the union to make this unfounded allegation. They are trying to gain leverage for collective-bargaining reasons, and it’s really shameful and irresponsible,” McLhinney said.

The union claims officers are attacked regularly, but the state says there has been no recent rash of attacks. “All attacks are reported and investigated. We take the responsibility of protecting our correctional officers very seriously. It is our number one priority,“ McLhinney said.

The union said the officer was in charge of two tiers at the time, which can hold a maximum of 130 inmates. “That’s not the norm. It’s clearly not acceptable” said Moran.

Here is the full statement sent by the Department of Public Safety to WJZ when we first reported on the attack last week: “In the early morning hours of December 14, during regular inmate movement at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, a correctional officer was escorting inmate staff assigned to kitchen duty. It was at that time, the officer said she was forcibly shoved into a closet by an inmate, where he allegedly attempted to sexually assault her.

The correctional officer was taken to a local hospital for a thorough examination and treatment. She has subsequently identified her attacker.

The incident remains under investigation. Detectives are working with the officer as well as other correctional staff and inmates to gather information surrounding the incident.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services works tirelessly to keep employees safe. We will thoroughly review details gathered during this investigation to make sure all policies and procedures were followed.

Pending the outcome of the investigation, the Department may seek prosecution.”

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