Maryland's corrections chief yesterday ordered more shakedowns, patrols, and overtime guard duty at state prisons after inmates engineered the second and third successful escapes in eight days.
State police were still hunting last night for two women and one man -- all previous escapes -- who broke out of two medium-security facilities, the state women's institution in Jessup and a correctional center for men in Hagerstown Wednesday night. All three were serving terms for violent crimes, officials said.
Hours after the escapes, State Corrections Commissioner Edwin R. Goodlander announced at a press conference in Jessup that the 115 new guard positions recently authorized by Gov. Harry R. Hughes would be immediately filled by paying overtime to guards and staff already employed.
Goodlander also said security inspections and searches of inmates for escape tools will be conducted more frequently, and new patrols will be scheduled along prison fences. Security teams are being appointed at all state facilities to review guards' strategies and orders, he said.
Both of yesterday's escape attempts were facilitated, corrections officials said, by the shortage of guards and inadequate prison facilities. There appears to be a growing perception among inmates that break-outs are not only possible but easy the officials said.
"Escaping is sort of like a virus," said Paul Wageley, the superintendant of the Hagerstown institution. "If one man makes it, then others are going to think they can do it."
The two escapees at the women's institution broke out with the help of contraband shears and a ladder of bedsheets which they hung from the second-story window of a room they shared in a cottage.
Barbara Bell, 33, serving time for robbery, and Theresa Grasso, 31, convicted of murder, were separated from the other inmates, superintendent Harry J. Traurig said, because both had escaped before. Grasso had broken out three times prior to her escape yesterday, Traurig said. In one case she was free for nearly a year.
Sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. yesterday, Bell and Grasso cut through a metal screen on their window and scrambled out, Traurig said. They apparently climbed over two fences -- one 18 feet high -- and fled into the surrounding countryside.
Traurig said that in addition to two guards in the women's cottage, one guard normally is responsible for watching the prison perimeter at night. During the escape last night, however, the guard had beendetached to transport prisoners to a work assignment outside the prison, Traurig said.
In the other escape, Ronald P. Greeson, 23, serving a term for manslaughter, walked out of his cottage at the Hagerstown prison, scaled an 18-foot fence using a blanket and a chain, then climbed over the small outer fence.
Hagerstown superintendent Wageley said that a sound alarm tripped when Greeson crossed over the high fence, but it took two guards about 20 minutes to locate the spot on the 39-acre grounds where the break occurred.
Both Wageley and Traurig said escapes and escape attempts had increased markedly at their institutions this year. Wageley said seven men have escaped from Hagerstown's medium-security facilities in the last two months, compared to two last year. Traurig said there have been three escapes from the women's center so far this year, matching the total for 1978.
In Jessup, where 30 inmates escaped last week from the Maryland House of correction in the state's second largest breakout, there are now about five escape attempts a week, according to correction officials,
Goodlander said state officials are attempting to hire guards for new positions as quickly as possible. But in the meantime, he has authorized prison superintendents to pay as much overtime as necessary to fill vacant slots by assigning current employes to double shifts.
Corrections officials have been authorized to fill 46 guard vacancies statewide. In addition, they will soon hire 69 other staff members to take kitchen jobs and other non-guard positions currently held by guards.
The new hiring, state officials said yesterday, will cost an estimated $1.3 million, some of which will have to come from a special legislative appropriation next year.