By Paul Gessler

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Maryland correctional officers say conditions inside the state’s jails and prisons are unsafe due to a lack of staffing and resources.

“It’s very unsafe. We’re working upwards of 16 or more hours a day,” Officer Elisha Mack said Monday. “(Detainees) are able to assault staff. They’re able to assault one another and we’re always behind the 8 ball with it.”

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The Department of Corrections told WJZ serious inmate-on-inmate assaults are down 72 percent; and serious inmate-on-staff assaults are down 44 percent since December 2019.

Leadership with AFSCME, the union representing state employees, said the conditions are leading to COVID-19 infections, assaults, and even deaths.

“Conditions are getting worse for the officers, for the inmates,” Patrick Moran, AFSCME Council 3 President, said. “Everyone in the facilities need PPE—staff and detainees to help minimize the spread of COVID—and we’re not seeing it happen.”

The DOC said it has made recruitment and retention a priority, having hired 954 correctional officers since January 2020.

The department also offers onboarding incentives like a $5,000 hiring bonus and an increased starting salary. A spokesperson did not answer whether it is short about 1,000 officers, as the AFSCME claimed.

AFSCME and state lawmakers are urging investigations and transparency regarding potentially spoiled vaccines administered to the public, specifically inmates.

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Sen. Shelly Hettleman said a portion of the spoiled/expired vaccines “went to the public” while others went to those incarcerated.

The Maryland Department of Health said 873 patients were affected in total. Of those, 135 were inmates of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, a spokesperson told WJZ. 

The MDH said it is conducting an ongoing review into the incident, and that all patients have been contacted.

“It puts our clients and the correctional staff at dire risk of infection as they might have been given a false sense of security,” Marci Tarrant Johnson of the Office of the Public Defender said. “People were torn from this world because this administration did not and has not done enough to keep everyone safe.”

A fire at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center last week sent three inmates and a correctional officer to the hospital. Fire officials determined inmates set five fires inside the facility and “poor ventilation” led to 28 people receiving medical treatment for smoke inhalation.

The fire is still under investigation, the DOC said. The three hospitalized inmates were reportedly discharged within hours, and the correctional officers had non-life-threatening conditions, the department said.

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Moran said ventilation is an issue at many facilities. He says PPE distribution has been inconsistent as well.

Paul Gessler