Prince George's County corrections officials, already embarrassed by revelations of bungling that contributed to an escape of an inmate last week, acknowledged yesterday that guards at the county's Detention Center had been told of a planned escape about three weeks before one happened.
However, officials said corrections officers took all practical steps to investigate escape routes and informed proper superiors.
"Short of a permanent lockdown, we did everything we should have under the circumstances," said Christy Merenda, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, adding that last week's escape is still under investigation.
A corrections officer at the $43 million Prince George's County Detention Center informed superiors in an Aug. 2 incident report that an inmate had overheard a conversation about an escape while waiting in a holding room to go to court, Merenda said.
She said the inmate could not identify the plotters by name.
The officer, David Bynane, took the report to a shift commander who went to the area where the inmates were housed. There he inspected the fencing above the walls of an outdoor recreation yard, Merenda said.
Two days before, on July 31, a perimeter patrol officer had reported seeing an inmate on the wall at the fencing, she said.
The housing unit's recreation yard was closed after the perimeter officer's report, Merenda said, and the fencing was inspected for tampering.
"There were some scratches on the fencing, but a physical inspection by three different officers found nothing to be loose," Merenda said.
The recreation yard remained closed from Friday, July 31, until Monday, Aug. 3, when a county maintenance crew inspected the fence.
"They did not perform any repairs, and they did not recommend that any repairs were needed." The fencing was closely inspected three times between July 31 and Aug. 3, Merenda said.
About three weeks later on Aug. 25, four inmates scaled the recreation yard wall in the same housing unit and went through the fencing.
Three of the inmates were captured before they got over the facility's two perimeter fences. The fourth inmate was captured within 24 hours about two miles away from the correctional center.
Merenda said that officials believed the July 31 sighting by the perimeter officer and the Aug. 2 report by the housing unit officer were related, and they were apparently satisfied that the unit was secure after the fence was inspected.
In May, two days after two inmates escaped from the Detention Center outside Upper Marlboro, Corrections Director Samuel F. Saxton said that a special mesh fencing could have prevented the two men from climbing the fence surrounding the outdoor recreation yard and climbing the two perimeter fences.
However, last week, in the wake of an identical escape, Saxton said the special fencing had never been ordered.
Tim Ayers, a spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, said yesterday that the latest incident does not change Glendening's support for Saxton, who has been running the Corrections Department since 1983.
Glendening has said that employes who failed to purchase the special fencing could face disciplinary actions.
Saxton said late last week that any corrections officers whose negligence contributed to the May 26 escape also would face disciplinary actions.