The U.S. Justice Department has sharply criticized the management of the troubled Prince George's County Correctional Center and warned that nearly 40 problems at the jail could lead to more escapes or endanger people there, county sources said.
The report, to be issued Tuesday by County Executive Parris Glendening, probably would lead to a major shakeup of top corrections administrators and possibly the addition of new management positions at the $43 million jail, county officials said. But they added that the job of Corrections Director Samuel F. Saxton, appointed to head the Corrections Department in 1983, is not immediately in jeopardy.
According to the report, corrections officials failed to implement adequate security checks and did not securely store potentially dangerous tools at the prison, where three escapes have occurred since it opened in February. The report also blames corrections management for inadequately handling a mushrooming inmate population.
In all, the report criticizes 39 specific areas in which management lapses could contribute to more escapes or endanger inmates and correctional officers at the "new generation" jail, according to county government sources who have read the document.
The report was prepared through the Justice Department's National Institute of Corrections.
One criticism in the audit is that the correctional center staff had no routine system for periodically checking fences atop walls of the outdoor recreation yards to ensure that they had not been weakened because of tampering by inmates or passage of time. Twice since late February, inmates escaped by scaling the recreation yard walls and climbing fences.
The report also criticizes the Corrections Department's Bureau of Support Services for failing to keep track of many potentially dangerous tools -- including saws, hammers and blowtorches -- and for not storing the tools securely.
Among other complaints, the sources said, the report cites crowding at the jail. County officials, who have been preparing detailed responses to the audit criticisms, said they badly underestimated the inmate population and at times have had to set up cots in unsecured areas of the jail. Designed for 596 inmates, the jail housed 820 early last week.
Along with the Justice Department report, Glendening will release a recently completed county audit of the Corrections Department ordered by the County Council. Also, reports were being readied on the two similar escapes from the facility, which is on Dille Drive outside Upper Marlboro.
In an interview last week, Glendening said he was considering how he would respond to what he called "very serious management problems" at the detention center.
Glendening and Saxton decided to have the Justice Department review after the two similar escapes.
In the first escape, in May, two inmates used a basketball pole to help them climb the recreation yard walls, pried the wire mesh fencing away from the edge of the building and jumped to the ground. The two men then scaled two 12-foot-high, razor-wire-topped perimeter fences and fled to a nearby wooded area. They were captured later.
Last month, six inmates tried to escape using an identical route. The men again used a basketball pole to climb the recreation yard wall, pried the fencing atop the wall away from the building and headed toward the perimeter fencing. Only one of the six inmates escaped, and he was captured a day later.
A third escape came in June when an inmate masqueraded as a weekend inmate and persuaded a guard to let her leave the jail. She was later caught.
The three escapes -- the only ones in Saxton's four years as director of the department -- highlighted problems at the correctional center, built to replace an aging jail that had been the scene of highly publicized sexual assaults among inmates.
First, after the escape in May, Saxton said that the installation of "unclimbable" mesh wire fencing on the recreation yard walls and on perimeter fencing would prevent a similar escape.
But three months later, Saxton found that the fencing had never been ordered. Glendening said the paper work required to purchase the material had never left the Corrections Department.
The Justice Department report also blames many of the problems at the Prince George's facility on crowding. A chronic shortage of personal items for inmates such as underwear and tennis shoes is blamed on staff's underestimation of inmate population. The report also blames crowding for the placement of temporary beds for inmates in areas that were not designed to house prisoners, such as rooms where inmate programs take place.
In the midst of the escapes and management problems at the facility, Saxton has fired three correctional officers for misconduct in the last three weeks.
One officer was terminated after officials found that he had sexual relations with a female inmate. A second officer was fired for abusing inmates in the center's mental observation ward by allegedly having inmates crawl on their hands and knees, bark like dogs and push pencils with their noses.
The third officer was fired for allegedly telling corrections officials and county police that a relative of an inmate had offered him a bribe to help with an escape. A police investigation found the officer's story was untrue, and the officer has been indicted on two counts of giving false statements to state officials.