The strangling death of Philip E. Parker Jr. last month as he sat shackled on a prison bus was not unusual in the violent atmosphere that pervades Maryland’s correctional system, the Baltimore sun says. As a grand jury indicted twice-convicted killer Kevin G. Johns Jr. on first-degree murder charges in Parker’s death, records show Maryland operates one of the nation’s deadliest prison systems. With an inmate population of about 24,000, Maryland has for several years recorded homicide rates in prisons that regularly match, and often exceed, those of much larger states. Since January 2004, six inmates have been killed in Maryland. By comparison, New York, with more than twice Maryland’s inmate population, reported no homicides in prison last year.
Maryland prison administrators are eliminating staff to cut costs in a process they call “right sizing.” Some correctional officers say this has left prisons dangerously understaffed. And the problem is compounded, they say, as a growing number of frustrated veteran officers quit or retire early and are replaced by younger and less experienced staff. Ron Bailey of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92 said staff cuts contribute to the violence because there are fewer eyes and ears to keep inmates under control. “The magnitude of serious incidents that are occurring is more severe than I can ever recall over the past 28 years,” he said. Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. said he is satisfied that he has adequate staff to run the prison system safely. “People equate more with better, and that’s not always true,” he said.