Md. prisoner transport comes under scrutiny

Jeffrey Wroten was overpowered and shot to death with his own gun while taking an inmate to Laurel hospital two years ago.

By The Washington Times Editorial Board

Wednesday's escape by an inmate from Laurel Regional Hospital is just the latest indication that something is wrong in Maryland - particularly when it comes to transporting dangerous offenders from prisons or jails for medical treatment.

Kelvin Poke, who was 45 and serving a life sentence for kidnapping, carjacking and robbery at the maximum-security Jessup Correctional Institution, was admitted to the hospital after complaining of chest pains. Despite the fact that he was wearing leg shackles, Poke managed to overpower three prison guards and take two guns from them. A fourth guard who had been assigned to guard Poke was on a break.

Poke also overpowered an unarmed private security guard and took him hostage. He released the guard after spotting a 1993 Toyota Camry in the hospital parking lot. Poke shot into the window of the vehicle, hitting the driver in the head, and then pulled the driver out of the car. Shortly after 1 p.m., police found the stolen Camry on fire in Northwest D.C. But Poke had managed to steal a second car and drive to a cemetery in Suitland, Md., where he fired on police officers who returned fire and killed him.

Unfortunately, the people charged with keeping inmates locked up seem to be learning the wrong lesson from Poke's violent rampage. A representative of the union representing the guards asserted that the escape shows that officers should not carry weapons inside hospitals. We could not disagree more strongly. Wednesday's horrific events show that guards need to be present in sufficient number to maintain control of the dangerous inmates they are guarding. Other options include building medical facilities on prison grounds or taking prisoners to more secure public medical facilities.

First and foremost, prison officials must make sure inmates need off-site care in the first place. Gov. Martin O'Malley needs to pay attention: Poke's escape was the second at Laurel hospital in less than two months. On Nov. 13, a member of a suspected international car-theft ring overpowered and beat up a state trooper there who was guarding him. Fortunately, the inmate was captured nearby approximately three hours later.

After Jeffrey Wroten, a guard at Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown, was overpowered and shot to death with his own gun while taking an inmate to Laurel hospital two years ago, state corrections officials ended the practice of using one officer to transport each inmate to the hospital. But the catastrophe that occurred Wednesday serves to illustrate that the O'Malley administration has a long way to go to ensure that the public isn't endangered when inmates are taken to a hospital in Maryland.

Copyright 2008 The Washington Times LLC

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