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News Maryland Baltimore Crime Beat

Western Md. guards say not enough done to protect them from assaults

The union that represents correctional officers at a maximum-security facility in Western Maryland said Thursday that prison officials have not done enough to prevent a spike in assaults by inmates that has seen 12 officers injured since late June.

North Branch Correctional Institution was placed on lockdown Wednesday after two inmates assaulted two correctional officers in the prison's dining hall. One officer was sent to the hospital as a precaution after his head was smashed into a wall. Since June 28, seven separate assaults by inmates have injured 12 officers, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said.

Union officials contend that intelligence officers intercepted an inmate's phone call Tuesday that led them to believe an attack on guards was imminent, and it questions why the facility near Cumberland was placed on lockdown only after the most recent attack.

Gary D. Maynard, the state corrections secretary, met with union officials Thursday and says he is personally involved. The meeting was a regularly scheduled one, though the NBCI situation was discussed, Mark Vernarelli, a state corrections spokesman, said in a statement.

"DPSCS is very sensitive to the safety concerns of staff and inmates," Vernarelli said. "The department's Internal Investigative Unit will file (and has filed) charges against inmates after every serious assault. Some of these inmates will be or have been moved to other facilities, and some may even be moved out of state."

North Branch houses many of the state's most violent prisoners. Nearly 1,000 of the facility's 1,400 inmates are convicted of murder and manslaughter, the department said, and inmates in other prisons who assault correctional officers are often transferred there.

Union officials said some of the recent attacks were by gang-affiliated inmates, but the department said that has not been determined.

Jeff Pittman, a union representative, called the meeting with Maynard and other department officials "tense and frustrating."

Patrick Moran, president of the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents state correctional officers, added that "NBCI officers are losing confidence in leaders."

Assaults on staff at the prison are down 11 percent in this fiscal year compared with the prior year, Vernarelli said.

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