Justice group to study Prince George's, Md., jail

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Prince George's County jail, plagued in recent years by allegations of corruption, incompetence and brutality, has entered into a partnership with a nonprofit group to improve management practices and develop a model for independent oversight of the Upper Marlboro facility, officials said yesterday.

County officials have entered into an agreement with the Vera Institute of Justice, which works with government agencies to improve criminal justice and public safety services. The collaboration comes at no cost to the county, officials said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Vera staff members will interview jail officials, corrections officers, inmates and former inmates to learn what the jail does well and what it could do better, county and Vera officials said.

Mary Lou McDonough, interim director of the county Department of Corrections, said Vera representatives attended her weekly command staff meeting at the jail Tuesday.

In a year or less, Vera is expected to develop a model for independent oversight of the jail's workings, said Alexander Busansky, director of Vera's office in the District, which has similar agreements with four other large correctional systems.

Those four are the statewide corrections systems for Colorado and Nevada, the Miami-Dade County jail system in Florida and the jail system in Travis County, Tex., which includes Austin.

Busansky said the oversight model will not necessarily be a civilian review panel, which are used for police departments in many jurisdictions, including Prince George's.

"External review can occur in lots of different ways," Busansky said. For example, it could involve independent psychiatrists evaluating inmates with mental health issues. The jail contracts for medical services.

McDonough said she is optimistic that the collaboration will lead to strengthened ties between the community and jail officials and will increase the transparency of jail operations. The jail's current advisory panel concentrates on such issues as helping ex-offenders return to the community, she said.

McDonough became interim director in June 2008, after four handguns were found to be missing from the jail armory. Alfred J. McMurray Sr. was fired as director after that incident.

Later that month, an inmate charged with killing a police officer was found dead in his cell. A state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but a lengthy state police probe found that the inmate, Ronnie L. White, 19, could have killed himself. Prosecutors said there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone in White's death.

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