Prisoner escapes renew hospital debate

Presence of 'forensic patients' creates challenges for hospital security

The other recent episode in Maryland was in November, also at Laurel Regional Hospital. A suspected car thief - not a state prison inmate - seized a state trooper's gun and fired shots. He was captured hours later following an intense search.

One of the unions representing Maryland prison workers has questioned the safety of placing inmates and armed guards together in hospitals.

"It's just like their not carrying weapons inside the prison," a prohibition common in corrections work, said Patrick Moran, Maryland director for the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees. "It's a confined area. There are all sorts of opportunities for things to happen."

Not all correctional workers agree.

Janet Anderson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, another prison workers' union, said all officers guarding hospitalized inmates should be armed, but that officers need more training in protecting their guns.

"If an inmate sees that both officers have guns, the chance of that inmate making a move to grab that gun and escape should be significantly reduced," Anderson said.

The two unions said they would prefer that all inmate medical care be provided inside prisons or at secure hospital units. The state corrections department provides full-time guards for one such unit, at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

But spokesman Rick Binetti of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said it's unrealistic to think the state can provide in-house hospital services for 23,000 inmates in more than 20 institutions. And he said decisions about where to take an inmate are made by emergency medical workers - not prison officials.

"It's obviously something the department is concerned about, and we're going to take a long look at that," Binetti said.


Associated Press writer Alex Dominguez in Baltimore contributed to this report.


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