A prison legacy

The Baltimore Sun

For those who had any doubts about the need to shut down the Maryland House of Correction last year, a hearing this week in an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court should convince them it was the right decision. Lawyers for two inmates charged in the murder of Correctional Officer David McGuinn are trying to show that a culture of corruption inside the Jessup prison contributed to the guard's death. And prison investigative reports they have received so far allege misconduct that went beyond a few insiders.

That shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. This isn't the first prison murder case to suggest that the bad guys were not only in cells. There have been other Maryland cases in which an inmate was murdered in full view of prison staff who made no effort to stop it, and another equally disturbing prison stabbing in which the murder weapon wasn't a home-made shank, but a Smith & Wesson hunting knife.

But the as-yet-unproven allegations in the McGuinn murder are unseemly because they contend complicity by fellow guards and for a frightening reason - the victim's "by the book" character.

This all may prove to be nothing more than an artful attempt at a plausible, but sensational, defense for two prisoners. But corrections documents provided to the defense raise serious questions about the investigation of the murder. The reports from Maryland State Police implicate 21 guards in smuggling and other corrupt activities. But they leave unanswered what, if anything, prison officials did in response to these serious allegations.

The July 25, 2006 murder of Officer McGuinn took place in the midst of a heated gubernatorial campaign, and it focused attention on the deplorable, unsafe conditions at the state's oldest prison. It also helped build a case for Gov. Martin O'Malley to close the prison last year.

Since then, Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard has taken steps to improve safety inside the prisons. They include the planned $2 million purchase of stab-proof vests for correctional officers, increased contraband sweeps and spot shakedowns of prison road crews, which have been a vehicle for smuggling. Mr. Maynard also has put a priority on gathering intelligence and identifying gang organizations inside the prisons, a focus that contributed to the federal indictment last week of 28 suspected gang members.

A resolution in the McGuinn murder case can't come soon enough for the officer's family. State officials shouldn't delay in providing defense attorneys with the information they are entitled to under the law. There are too many questions that need to be answered.

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