Security upgrades made to social services offices after infant stabbing

A series of safety improvements are in the works at Maryland social services offices after an infant girl was allegedly stabbed by her mother during a supervised visit this spring, state officials said last week.

The child, Pretty Diamond, who is about a year old now, has recovered from her physical wounds and is in a "loving and safe home," state human resources secretary Theodore Dallas said. Her mother, Kenisha Thomas, is scheduled for trial Oct. 29 for attempted murder, assault, child abuse and related charges.

Thomas, 30, allegedly stabbed the baby, who was then 8 months old, five times in the head, neck and chest with a kitchen knife at the end of an hour-long visit in April. The mother, who had lost custody of the girl, sneaked the knife into the Baltimore Department of Social Services, according to authorities.

Since then, Dallas said, the state has taken steps to improve security at the social services offices. The agency has installed lockers in family meeting rooms and begun mandatory bag searches. Bags must now be stored in the lockers or kept in the visitors' vehicles.

"The system works best for everybody involved when everybody feels safe," Dallas said. The intent of the changes is to "make sure we have the proper balance of security and openness."

The Department of Human Resources will also install panic buttons in the family meeting rooms and install secure employee entrances to be used by staff to escort children for family visitation, according to the agency. Surveillance cameras will also be mounted throughout the offices and at employee entrances.

The cost of the repairs won't be calculated until after the installations are complete because the necessary improvements will vary by facility, said Brian M. Schleter, the department's director of communications.

Thomas allegedly smuggled the kitchen knife in her purse into the social services office in the 3000 block of E. Biddle St. Her purse was searched by a security guard but not put through a metal detector, which procedure did not require, Department of Human Resources officials said. Thomas did, however, walk through the metal detector, officials said.

A caseworker who was in the room when Thomas allegedly stabbed the baby screamed for help. A second social worker who responded hit Thomas over the head with a chair, according to authorities.

Thomas' public defender did not immediately return a request for comment.

Security at the social service offices is provided by private contractors. Watkins Security Agency was contracted for $7.4 million to provide armed and unarmed guards from November 2008 until March. The company was outbid by Admiral Security Services, which took over providing security at the offices recently.

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