By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Prince George's County has arranged for independent experts to review policies and procedures at its troubled jail, county officials announced yesterday, as state and federal authorities continued to investigate the strangulation last month of a 19-year-old inmate.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said the American Correctional Association, a nonprofit group that administers an accreditation program for jails, will begin a week-long review this month. He said the county has also asked the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency within the Justice Department, to conduct an assessment.
Johnson said in a statement that the efforts would constitute a thorough, top-to-bottom review of management practices, training and inmate security at the Upper Marlboro facility.
Vernon Herron, head of public safety for the county, said in an interview: "We are not running a perfect operation. We're making improvements, but we're not there yet. We've had some issues that happened over at the Department of Corrections, and if there are ways that we can prevent them from happening again, we want to look at that and initiate those changes to make sure our corrections officers and inmates are safe."
Herron said he is considering adding surveillance cameras and taking other steps to increase security at the jail, where inmate Ronnie L. White was found strangled in his cell June 29. White had been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of a county police officer, Cpl. Richard S. Findley, 39.
Johnson has said that only guards had access to the cell where White was being held.
Also this year, a guard who was allegedly a member of the Bloods street gang was arrested on charges of supplying cellphones to inmates; another guard was charged with armed robbery and assault; two inmates were found to have handcuff keys; and a detainee was wounded when seven gang members allegedly attacked him in a holding area. On June 4, the director of corrections was fired after four handguns were reported missing from the jail's armory.
Bobby Henry, an attorney for White's family, called the reviews a step in the right direction but said they should have been conducted earlier.
"For Ronnie White and his family, it's too late," Henry said. "We are prayerful that they can correct may of the existing problems at the facility."
Herron said the county will pay the correctional association $25,000 for the review. The group will begin its assessment July 21 and expects to complete its work within a week. The NIC is reviewing the county's request to conduct an assessment for free, Herron said.