Maryland Prison Chief Outlines Inmate Labor Program
1/24/2011
The Star Democrat

ANNAPOLIS — To help rehabilitate those behind bars, the state is using inmates to complete a variety of public works projects not otherwise being done. Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard met Friday with state senators and delegates from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to talk about the program’s current projects and its general success in teaching inmates new skills for their eventual release from prison.

Maynard said the inmate workforce had around 400 members when he started four years ago and that number has since doubled. He said safety issues in institutions have been addressed as well and violence has been reduced during his time in office.

One public works project in the pipeline, Maynard said, is using inmates to address an issue with sidewalk curbs in the City of Cambridge. He said there are curbs in the city and throughout the state that are not wheelchair accessible.

Maynard said he is working with the State Highway Administration to train inmates to bring curbs up to the proper standards. He said he has spoken with Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley about doing that work in her city and has offered to assist in obtaining grant funding for it.

“These handicapped accessible ramps are going to be a good way for inmates to pay something back and to do something for people that need some help,” Maynard said.

Inmates also are being trained, Maynard said, on the installation of nutrient mitigation techniques for the Chesapeake Bay. He said prisoners are installing stream fencing to keep livestock out of waterways. Another program is being developed to have inmates build manure sheds for farms.

“We do oysters too,” Maynard said. Maynard said his department began working several years ago with the Department of Natural Resources on an oyster project. He said inmates clean oysters and make bags for them, which are then placed in tanks and later moved into the wild by watermen.

For those inmates who previously received honorable military discharges, Maynard said, they are being given the chance to help maintain veterans’ cemeteries in the state. He said the inmates assist the caretakers, who do a great job in their own right, and he hopes to bring the program to the veterans’ cemetery in Dorchester County.

“They already did a great job. The inmate labor makes it easier and better,” Maynard said.

Del. David Rudolph, D-34B-Cecil, said the inmate labor program has worked really well in Cecil County, where prisoners are putting up gateway signs in communities. Rudolph asked whether or not Maynard had any sort of way to measure the overall program’s success.

Maynard said his department does complete statistic tracking on inmate programs like those involving education and substance abuse treatment. A case management system is being developed, he said, that will allow for better tracking of an inmate’s progress.

Del. Michael McDermott, R-37B-Worcester, questioned expanding inmate labor programs during the difficult economy. Concerns may arise, McDermott said, that inmates are taking jobs from those who need them.

“A lot of those jobs you’re talking about are jobs that are done by construction crews,” he said.

Maynard said his department will not take a job away from anyone. He said projects being completed by inmates are ones nobody else is working on and if outside interest was expressed in a project, he would back off it immediately.

Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36-Cecil, said recidivism rates show that more than 50 percent of inmates released with good time credits are returning to prison. Smigiel asked if the prison system would be able to continue operations if the good time credits were done away with.

Maynard said he does not get involved with laws, those are up the legislators. He said if the credits are taken away, the prison system as a whole will grow, but no matter what, the inmate populations will be kept under control.

“I would never say I could not control inmates without anything. If you say we’re going to take away earned credits, I would say I can control them. If you say we’re going to take away hot meals, I say I can control them,” Maynard said.

Maynard said resources may be shifted from training inmates to controlling them. He said he guarantees though that inmates would remain properly controlled.