The Washington Post Sunday

Attempted sex assault reported at prison

Inmate forced guard into closet, officials say; union blames staffing

- BY OVETTA WIGGINS ovetta.wiggins@washpost.com

A prison inmate at Patuxent Institutio­n in Jessup, Md., shoved a female correction­al officer into a closet and attempted to sexually assault her early Friday morning, according to state prison officials.

The guard was escorting inmates assigned to kitchen duty when the alleged incident occurred.

Union leaders have repeatedly criticized Gov. Larry Hogan (R) over staffing shortages at the state’s prisons. On Friday, the president of the correction­al officers’ union said those shortages made the attack possible and accused the governor of allowing prison conditions to reach a point where officers’ lives are in danger.

“We’ve been addressing this and trying to get the Hogan administra­tion to address the staffing issues for the last four years,” said Patrick Moran, president of Council 3 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Now the chickens have come home to roost.”

Renata Seergae, a spokeswoma­n for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correction­al Services, said staffing was not a problem Friday morning.

“Any assertion by the union to blame this tragic incident on staffing shortages is not only false but grossly irresponsi­ble. The institutio­n was fully staffed at the time of the incident. Mr. Moran is exploiting the victim of this crime to push union agenda for a new contract knowing full well that the informatio­n we can release is limited due to the ongoing criminal and administra­tive Investigat­ions,” Seergae said in a statement.

Moran said the female officer, who was working an overnight shift, was covering “two tiers” of the prison, which together could hold as many as 130 inmates.

“The midnight shift should be a minimum of one guard on each tier,” he said.

Moran called the alleged incident “gut-wrenching, disgusting and predictabl­e,” given the continued staffing issues.

Earlier this year, during the annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, a group of women who said their loved ones work at Eastern Correction­al Institutio­n in Westover approached Hogan to ask about a staffing shortage at the prison.

They got into a heated exchange, and one woman said, “If anything happens to our loved ones, it’s on you.”

The Hogan administra­tion has taken numerous steps to try to address staffing shortages at state prisons, including partnering with local law enforcemen­t agencies to recruit and offering $5,000 hiring bonuses and $3,000 retention bonuses.

The state correction­s department recently graduated a new class of correction­al officers.

The agency said in a statement that the officer, who identified her alleged attacker, was taken to a hospital, where she was examined and treated.

The incident is under investigat­ion, and the department may prosecute.

“The Department of Public Safety and Correction­al Services works tirelessly to keep employees safe,” the statement reads. “We will thoroughly review details gathered during this investigat­ion to make sure all policies and procedures were followed.”

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