A melee at the Metropolitan Transition Center that sent 18 prison inmates to area hospitals on Friday with stab wounds involved a dispute between the Bloods gang and Sunni Muslim prisoners, according to corrections sources.
Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the prison system, acknowledged for the first time yesterday that a gang might have been involved in the violence that erupted at the state-run prison in Baltimore. But, noting security concerns, she would not provide more detailed information.
"In terms of naming specific groups, we're not prepared to do that at this time," Doggett said.
She said that prison officials are "reviewing various methods to deal with violence in our correctional system that is the result of gang and non-gang violence."
Last year, Maryland prison officials visited New Jersey, where authorities have assigned gang members to a designated prison with specially designed gang-management programs.
Several corrections sources said the more established and generally older Muslim inmates were tired of the younger and more aggressive Bloods trying to run things at the prison. The sources asked not to be identified because of department policies that prohibit them from speaking to the news media.
The Bloods are well established in many of Maryland's prisons, along with several Muslim groups.
Doggett said yesterday that all but one of the 18 inmates hospitalized after last week's fight have been returned to prisons around the state.
The transition center has been on lockdown since the fight. As of Sunday, authorities had found at least 80 hand-made weapons around the prison - mainly shanks fashioned from Plexiglas, broken pieces of metal or other materials, she said.
Doggett said there were about 200 inmates in the recreation yard at the prison when the fight broke out.
Advocates for inmates in Maryland say the violence illustrates larger problems in the system that need to be addressed.
Kimberly Haven, executive director of Justice Maryland, said her group is set to meet next week with Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard to discuss conditions in the state's prisons.
The newly appointed secretary did the right thing in closing the antiquated and violence-ridden House of Correction earlier this year, Haven said, but advocates are anxious to know what is next.
"It looks like we're barely keeping a lid on a powder keg," Haven said. "There's more to it than just closing the House. Now what do we do?"
Haven said that advocates and those who know best what goes on behind prison walls - former prisoners and their family members and corrections workers - should have a say in how prison reforms take shape.
She described Friday's incident as another "wake-up call" that reforms are urgently needed to make prisons in Maryland safer for inmates and for the people who work in them.
"We can't continue to keep having these wake-up calls because people are getting hurt," she said.