The state prison system has reinstated two correctional officers fired as part of a crackdown stemming from abuse allegations, officials said yesterday.
The probe, one of the most extensive in years of Maryland's penal system, has about two dozen officers fired or on leave as investigators attempt to determine whether they beat inmates at two Western Maryland prisons. The reversal of two of the firings prompted a labor union to describe the terminations as "a rush to judgment."
The two reinstated officers had been fired from their jobs at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, according to the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"These reinstatements have exposed these mass firings to be a rush to judgment on the state's part, as AFSCME has maintained all along," the union said in a statement. "These mass firings have been an injustice and an insult to Maryland correctional officers. AFSCME will continue to fight to win reinstatement for officers caught up in these mass firings."
Mark Vernarelli, a state prison spokesman, said that during the course of the investigation into the incidents, "information came out exonerating these two officers."
"The department took immediate action to bring the officers back, and they have been reinstated with no loss of state service time," he said in a written statement.
Gary D. Maynard, the state secretary of public safety and correctional services, said in an interview Wednesday that of the 8,000 correctional officers guarding 23,000 inmates in Maryland, nearly all of them "are hard-working and dedicated, and follow policy and state law."
Local and state law enforcement bodies are working together in an investigation of several encounters between inmates and officers early last month at Roxbury and at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland. Fifteen officers from RCI have been fired - not including the two that were later reinstated - and eight from North Branch are on paid administrative leave.