Corrections officials keep watch for potential gang activity
Daily Times Staff Report
SNOW HILL -- The Worcester County Jail has decided to catalog data on inmates linked to gang activity in response to a growing national concern about violence associated with organized cliques in the penal system.
The action also corresponds with next week's scheduled high-profile execution of Crips gang founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams -- and precautions at Lower Shore corrections facilities to avert a jail uproar among potential sympathizers.
"Are we part of a state database? No. But we do (plan to) monitor inmates if they are a member of a gang," said Garry Mumford, assistant warden at the Snow Hill facility. "Last month is when we started doing the documentation."
Wicomico County law enforcement agencies are keeping watch on neighborhood groups known as "crews," usually teen bands that dress alike and often wear tattoos. As part of a county gang task force, Wicomico corrections officials document inmates with known or suspected ties to organized gangs, said Department of Corrections director Douglas Devenyns.
At the Maryland Department of Corrections, a spokesman acknowledged that "we do have intelligence to monitor gang activity" at prisons throughout the state, although he was not specific.
"I can't go into detail, but we monitor activity," spokesman George Gregory said Tuesday.
In November, Worcester jail officials decided to log data on inmates with tattoos or other evidence that suggest gang association, although Mumford said that to date, nothing has been identified.
The measure, he said, comes with increased attention to organized gangs such as the historically black Crips and Bloods and the MS-13, a Hispanic-based group.
In a Washington suburb community of Prince George's County, jail officials told the Associated Press recently that for about a year, the facility has tried to track gang members through a computerized database.
"We are (unique) to Prince George's County and other areas of the state; they have reason to track gangs," Mumford said. "I am not aware of gangs, but the information is out there. This is what we decided to do."
The Snow Hill facility houses an average of 275 inmates with a maximum stay of 18 months. The average period of incarceration is about 10 to 12 months, he said. Unlike other detention centers on the Lower Shore, the Worcester facility is located 20 miles south of the popular resort town of Ocean City that draws visitors practically year-round from across the country.
"We have local inmates, but many are from someplace else," he said. "We needed to monitor to see who we are dealing with."
Area corrections officials are mindful of Williams' scheduled execution Tuesday.
"Anytime there is an execution of anyone, it has a positive or negative influence and we will be vigilant and visual on that day and following days ... to see if any supporters are taking any action," Mumford said. "We have to be vigilant."
At the Somerset County Detention Center near Princess Anne, "as of now, there are no known gang members," according to Assistant Warden Carolyn Cullen.
"All officers are very alert," Cullen said. "We do deal with so many local people; you are more alert."
Devenyns said suspected gang members are among the estimated 575 inmates housed in Salisbury.
"We are housing suspected gang members. They typically won't admit it, but it is apparent from tattoos or other gestures," the director said Monday. "Possible or necessary precautions are in place should need arise."