A 20-year-old Baltimore man serving an 18-month prison sentence on drug distribution and gun convictions at a correctional facility in Cumberland was severely beaten there Monday and is now close to death, according to his family and state corrections officials.

Jerod Pridget of East Baltimore was found unresponsive and with "severe head trauma" in his cell at the Western Correctional Institution just before noon Monday and was rushed to Western Maryland Regional Medical Center, officials said.

Another inmate was identified as a suspect "almost immediately," said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"I cannot go into investigative details, but there is nothing to suggest anything other than a tragic inmate-on-inmate assault," Vernarelli said. He did not identify the inmate suspected of the beating.

On Monday night, doctors determined Pridget needed to be transferred to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Vernarelli said. Not all inmates who are hospitalized are allowed to have family visitors, but prison officials authorized Pridget's mother, Phyllis Scott, to visit her son because of the severity of his injuries, Vernarelli said.

A hospital spokeswoman confirmed Pridget was at the hospital in critical condition Tuesday night.

Stephen Scott, Pridget's brother, said Pridget has "a massive brain injury that doctors say he won't recover from," and is only being kept alive through life support.

He said Pridget's extensive injuries do not match what the family has been told by prison officials, causing them to question whether a fellow inmate inflicted them.

"His jaw's broken. He's got a boot print on the left side of his face. The inmates don't even wear boots. He's got glove marks on his neck," Scott said, his voice breaking.

"Jerod was the type of young man, he was a fighter," Scott said. "But he had no defensive wounds on his hands, and that's kind of unusual if they're saying the inmates did it, because he would have fought to his last breath."

Scott said Pridget has six other brothers and three sisters. His mother, after seeing him in the hospital, isn't "doing too well," he said.

Vernarelli said detectives are investigating the case, but do not suspect anyone was involved in the beating other than the existing suspect.

The state corrections department "takes this and any prison assault case very seriously, and will be working closely with [Maryland State Police] and the state's attorney's office to vigorously pursue charges against the suspect," he said.

As of Tuesday night, detectives with the corrections department's internal investigations unit were handling the investigation, Vernarelli said.

If Pridget dies, state law requires the investigation be turned over to state police. Vernarelli said state police have been notified of the severity of Pridget's injuries.

There are more than 1,600 inmates at Western Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison that also houses inmates under lesser security, Vernarelli said.

Scott said Pridget was transferred to the Cumberland facility after having problems with another inmate at a correctional institution in Hagerstown. Vernarelli said he could not confirm the transfer, or whether Pridget was a maximum-security prisoner.

Pridget was sentenced in November 2011 to serve 18 months for drug distribution and for violating probation on a gun charge. Having been locked up since July, Pridget had served about 16 months on the charges.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun