HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Inmate-on-inmate homicides at Maryland state prisons spiked in 2012 to seven, the highest number in at least 11 years, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said Tuesday.
The seven slayings, up from four in 2011, were isolated incidents that don't reflect decreased safety at the agency's 27 institutions, spokesman Rick Binetti said in an emailed response to questions from The Associated Press. He said inmate-on-inmate homicides have averaged 3.6 per year since 2001.
"While there was an uptick last year at seven, there have been other years where that has kicked up above the average as well," Binetti wrote. For example, there were six such deaths in both 2009 and 2006, he said.
Binetti said other indicators of inmate violence, such as serious assaults on staff members or other inmates, have fallen sharply since 2007. He credited increased monitoring of gang activity and information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies.
"The institutions have never been safer," Binetti said.
He said overall inmate deaths, including suicides, have also declined in recent years.
The AP sought the information after Maryland State Police reported the slaying Sunday of inmate Ricky Bailey at North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, the state's highest maximum-security prison. Bailey was the third inmate slain there since September. He was found dead in his cell with numerous head and neck injuries.
Assaults by inmates often stem from gang activity and contraband, said state Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, who co-chaired a recent task force on prison violence. The group's 2011 report recommended a system-wide approach to reducing gang activity and improving inmate mental health care.
Binetti said the prison agency expanded inmate mental-health care in 2012 through an information-sharing agreement with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the creation of mental-health units inside the prisons with a total of 350 beds. He said the improvements were made possible partly through a new mental health care contract awarded in May to MHM-Maryland Inc. of Baltimore.
The Maryland branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, the collective bargaining agent for the state's 6,100 correctional officers, said its members perceive increased gang membership among inmates. Spokesman Jeff Pitman said the department recently told the union it would request funding for 322 new correctional officers.
"AFSCME members know that more correctional officers do mean more safety for inmates and staff and we would support that," he said.