Jessup Prison Seeing Growing Unrest Over Coronavirus Cases, Safety

A protest sign claiming subpar conditions inside the prison has hung from an I-95 overpass for days

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There are reports of growing unrest among inmates inside a local prison amid a rising number of COVID-19 cases. Inmates have started a series of small fires and thrown trash and human waste around inside a housing unit at the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland, according to a review by the News4 I-Team.  

Relatives of inmates inside one of the housing units said up to 10 fires have been ignited by inmates in the past week. In at least one case, they broke open electrical sockets and ignited paper or trash.    

The fires are part of a series of outbursts and protests by inmates, said the mother of one inmate in the complex’s D-building housing unit.  

“There's fecal matter being thrown all over the cells. Trash and debris is just being left. It's never been in the condition that it's in now. The conditions are so bad,” she said. 

A state prison spokeswoman confirmed recent fires, but would not specify how many. She said the fires were “resolved without future incident.” The spokeswoman also said inmate movement is limited due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, but said there has been no further restriction because of any recent inmate protests.

A union official representing Jessup correctional officers confirmed the reports of inmates throwing human waste and trash.

An I-Team review of state records shows more than 400 inmates in Maryland state prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than half of them are in the Jessup prison complex. At least 400 staffers have tested positive in Maryland prisons statewide, including approximately 140 at Jessup, the I-Team found. 

Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has already limited the movement of inmates to prevent the further spread of the virus. In a statement, an agency spokeswoman said, “Determinations to implement partial or temporary limitations of movement are not made lightly and every action taken is to protect the health of inmates and staff, and they are being informed. Despite these difficult circumstances, we are trying to assure opportunities for all to use the phones, video visitation, and participate in other activities to keep the inmate population connected with loved ones and engaged.”

A video purportedly recorded inside Jessup and later smuggled or distributed out of the complex shows a masked inmate complaining of deteriorating morale and increase unrest inside the prison.   In the video, the inmate said, “We haven’t seen our families in 90 [expletive] days.  We need help, man.”

The agency acknowledged it is aware of the video, but said there is no evidence to confirm it was recorded inside Jessup prison. 

A protest sign, spraypainted on a large sheet, claims subpar conditions inside Jessup prison. It has hung from an overpass near the Jessup exit of Interstate 95 in Maryland for several days.  

Relatives of other inmates in other state prisons are pushing the Maryland government to approve more early releases or transfers to home confinement.   

Julie Magers, whose husband is serving the final months of a sentence at the state prison in Hagerstown, said prison health care systems are undermanned and less equipped to handle major medical emergencies and outbreaks.

Magers said her husband suffers pre-existing health conditions.   

“It’s not just worrisome, it’s excruciating to not know what’s going on inside,” she said. 

The agency said, “The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) is committed to protecting the health and well being of our staff, inmates, and detainees who live and work in our facilities. DPSCS, in conjunction with Maryland Department of Health (MDH) and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), are closely monitoring developments associated with COVID-19. DPSCS is prepared to handle any potential cases of COVID-19 within the state-operated correctional institutions in Maryland.”

Updates on COVID-19 cases in Maryland’s prisons can be found here

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