Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prince George's County Detention Center: Another fight between black and Hispanic prisoners

Ruben Castaneda:

Corrections officers at the Prince George's County Detention Center broke up a fight between a black detainee and a Latino detainee last week -- a month after officials at the facility began separating black and Latino detainees in the lockdown unit.

The fight, which occurred last Wednesday, was at least the third conflict between black and Latino detainees at the Upper Marlboro facility since October.

Wednesday's fight was over the use of a television in a medium- to maximum-security unit, according to a supervisory source in the detention center. Two hours a day are allotted for detainees to watch Spanish-language programs, said the supervisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized to give interviews.

The precise cause of the fight was unclear. According to internal reports, a black detainee unplugged the TV, and he and a Latino detainee began exchanging punches. Corrections officers intervened. The fight was quelled quickly, and no one was injured, said Vicki D. Duncan, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Corrections.

The fracas was the second time in a month that black and Latino detainees found themselves in conflict over the use of a television. On March 3, two black detainees and two Latino detainees shouted at each other after the black inmates -- who were watching videos -- brushed off a request by the Latinos to view a program in Spanish.

To prevent such fights from recurring, the detention center last week introduced a new policy: Corrections officers will be on hand during the hours allotted for Spanish-language viewing and will be in charge of changing the channels, Duncan said.

Each housing unit has two televisions. The detention center, designed for 1,500 detainees, is often at capacity or overcrowded, Duncan said, and such overcrowding can lead to fights like the one that occurred last week.

"It's not unexpected in a place that's overcrowded," she said. "That's what inmates do."

A fight in October began after a Latino detainee accused a black detainee of stealing food. A dozen detainees -- six black, six Latino -- were sent to the lockdown unit after the brawl.

On March 6, officials at the detention center began keeping black and Latino detainees in the lockdown unit separate from each other. In a memo, acting Lt. Col. Jerome R. Smith, chief of security at the detention center, said a "recent escalation of gang violence" prompted the changes.

About 15 percent of all detainees in the detention center are Latino, and almost all the rest are black. Members of the black gang the Bloods and the Latino gang known as MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, are recruiting inside the detention center, the supervisor said.

On March 28, a corrections officer picked up an anonymous note saying that some Latino detainees were making weapons to protect themselves. Duncan said officers conduct periodic shakedowns of detainees' cells to look for weapons.

Corrections officers are separating black and Latino detainees in the lockdown unit of the Prince George's County Detention Center in Upper Marlboro

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