JESSUP, Md. – Citing inefficiency and concern over employee safety, state officials closed a 128-year-old maximum security prison on Saturday after secretly moving its inmates to other prisons over the past few weeks, according to a newspaper report.
Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard said he began working on plans to close the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup hours after a correctional officer, Edouardo F. Edouazin, was stabbed there on March 2, the (Baltimore) Sun reported Sunday.
Edouazin lived, but others involved in attacks at the prison haven't been so lucky. Last summer, three prisoners were killed and a guard was stabbed to death by two inmates.
"The House of Correction was one of the worst in terms of officer safety and efficiency of operation," Maynard said. "You can't put enough officers here to make it safe."
Over the last two weeks, inmates were secretly moved in groups of 15 to 40 in vans and buses during the day, said John A. Rowley, acting commissioner of the Division of Correction. Inmates weren't told until the morning of their move that they were leaving, and they weren't told where they were going, officials said.
The last few dozen of the 842 inmates the prison had housed were to be moved Saturday. Most went to other facilities in Maryland, but 97 of the "most disruptive" inmates went to federal prisons across the country or state facilities in Kentucky and Virginia, officials said.
Other state prisons have enough room to accommodate the influx of prisoners from the House of Correction, Maynard said. Savings on overtime expenses for officers will cover the cost of moving inmates and reimbursing other states and expenses will be covered in the department's current budget, he said.
The maximum-security Jessup Correctional Institution and the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup, which are adjacent to the House of Correction, will remain open.
The prison's 438 employees will move to other facilities in the region.
Union leaders have long complained about safety conditions at the prison.
"It's been a dangerous prison for a long time for both inmates and staff," said Sue Esty, interim executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92.
The configuration of the House of Correction makes it hard to control inmates, said William W. Sondervan, who ran Maryland's prisons from 1999 to 2003,
"The architectural design was from 1878," Sondervan said. "It was big and it was sprawled out. We had maximum-security inmates in dormitories and more than we should have had there."
Gov. Martin O'Malley told the Sun he had been considering closing the prison when Maynard presented the idea to him two weeks ago.
"As long as I can remember, people have been saying we should close the House of Correction," O'Malley said. "I'm very proud it's our first order of business really in cleaning up our prisons."