"People seem to think that homicides are an epidemic in correctional facilities, and I hate to break their little hearts, but they're really rare," Noonan said. "Most people who go to prisons don't die. They go to the facility, they serve their time and they get out."

The families of Maryland inmates who have died recently, however, say the killings represent a critical failure on the state's part. Their loved ones, they said, had the right to serve a court-ordered sentence, not face a violent death in a state-run facility.

Pridget's mother acknowledges that he had run into trouble with police. In recent years, he had strayed from W.E.B. DuBois High School and started down a troubled path, she said.

"He was a leader [on the streets]. It wasn't like he was being pulled in," said his sister, Cordedra Scott, 23.

In November 2011, Pridget was found guilty of drug possession with the intent to distribute and was ordered to serve 18 months of a five-year prison term. He also received an 18-month sentence for violating probation on a gun charge, which was to run concurrently.

Pridget's overall record is difficult to assess, in part because court records contain variations of his name. State police have referred to him as Jerod Pridget and said he was 20 at the time of his death, which matches some records. His family provided his full name and gave his age as 19, which matches other records.

In July, Pridget's sentence was extended by a year after he was found guilty of having contraband in his cell, records show. In October, he was accused of assaulting a corrections officer at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, records show.

At Phyllis Scott's rowhouse in the Madison-Eastend neighborhood, east of Johns Hopkins Hospital and north of Patterson Park, images of Pridget remain. Some reflect more innocent times. In one photo, a young Pridget is lying in the sand and smiling broadly. A framed, poster-size picture of him near the front door reads "Gone But Never Forgotten."

The family has other photos they don't display — of Pridget at Shock Trauma, his head swollen beyond recognition. His eyes are shut. A bandage wraps around one of his ears.

Cordedra Scott took the hospital photos — a difficult task. "It's still hurting me to this day," she said.

Scott said investigators have shared little information about the killing of her son. The family has been told by state police that there is video of the assault but hasn't been allowed to watch it, she said.

"They're telling me that [he] was attacked by another inmate. Prove it to me," she said. "Why hasn't this guy been charged?"

"I don't think we're ever going to get the truth," said Cordedra Scott, who wore a shirt with pictures of her brother, reading "Rest In Peace Rod," "The Lion Of The Den" and "Trouble Man."

Jamaal Pridget, 21, said he has been to prison himself and will be skeptical of whatever investigators tell the family. "For somebody to get beat like that, it would take a period of time," he said, noting that the injuries were limited to his brother's head.

A close relative of Rickey Bailey, 51, who was killed in February at the maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, also has questions that she doubts will ever be answered.

She believes that he was killed by gang members and says he asked prison officials for protection. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears that members of the gang will come after her. "It's a house of horrors," she said of the prison system.

Bailey was transferred to North Branch just months before his death, she said. At the time, he wrote a letter that she now realizes was his goodbye to her.

"Thinking of you. Be strong ... And wishing you the strength and the courage you'll need to get you through this difficult time. Love and miss you big time. Endless love," it read.

Binetti said the department cannot comment on individual cases involving inmate deaths. But he said there is no evidence that Bailey — who was imprisoned in 1991 for rape, burglary and kidnapping — had requested protection.

The killings of Pridget, Bailey and Young remain under investigation by state police, which by law investigate all homicides at Maryland correctional facilities.

Some say more must be done.

David Rocah, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said he has heard numerous complaints from prisoners that their requests to be separated from cellmates they don't get along with are routinely denied.

Gabriel Eber, staff counsel with the ACLU's National Prison Project, said that when it comes to violence in prisons, the most critical thing for a prison system to do is to take responsibility, learn from mistakes and make changes. "We always want to see a system that takes a step back and takes a broader view and says as a system, 'What could we have done to have prevented this from happening?'"

Phyllis Scott, meanwhile, is concerned about what happened to her son. His last mark on the world was as a donor of organs, which she said five people have received. In that way, her son has given life in his death, she said. But she wanted more.

"I was hoping Rod would be around to give me a grandson," she said.

Scott gasped Friday when she heard that Young, who was serving a sentence for assault and false imprisonment, had been severely beaten at the Jessup prison and was taken to Shock Trauma, circumstances similar to her son's.

"This is ridiculous," she said. "People make mistakes in life, they go to prison for their mistakes, but they're still human beings, they're somebody's kid, they're somebody's brother, they're somebody's father."