As of last week, 31 MCTC inmates were on work-release at the prison, Towers said. The center's population stands at about 2,907 inmates.
Work-release is not offered at Roxbury Correctional Institution or the Maryland Correctional Institution, officials said.
On Aug. 10, Charles Elmer Carpenter, who was convicted of murdering his 77-year-old grandmother 15 years ago in Clear Spring, failed to return to the Patuxent Institution Re-Entry Facility in Baltimore after being granted a weekend pass.
Patuxent officials said Carpenter, who was serving a life sentence, has spent virtually his entire adult life in counseling and has gradually earned freedoms such as overnight passes and work-release. Carpenter had no infractions, and the weekend pass granted to him was a typical procedure, officials said.
Despite assurances from prison officials, relatives of Carpenter fear he is dangerous and said their concerns were heightened by reports that he was seen recently in the Williamsport area. Victims' rights advocates also criticized state officials for allowing Carpenter such unsupervised outings.
Towers said it would be impossible for an inmate like Carpenter to earn enough freedoms at MCTC to be eligible for work-release. At MCTC, inmates with life sentences are not eligible for any program less restrictive than medium security, which has no work-release, Towers said.
Other jails in the Tri-State area do not allow suspects charged with murder to participate in work-release, according to officials. Most of the inmates eligible for work-release are being held for nonviolent offenses such as bad checks, failure to pay child support or driving under the influence, officials said.
Jerry Detrick, administrator of the Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg, W.Va., said court officials are careful about who they allow on work-release because it "puts them on the hook" when they authorize it.
Occasionally, prisoners try their luck at escaping.
In 1990, an Eastern Regional Jail inmate who had been working for the county park system in Martinsburg jumped in a car and headed south on Interstate 81, said Detrick. He was later caught in Winchester, Va., Detrick said.
On July 7, an inmate walked from a release program at the Franklin County Jail near Chambersburg, Pa., but he was captured five days later, said Sgt. R. Rouzer.
"It occasionally happens. It's not a major problem," said Rouzer.
There has never been an escape in the work-release program at the Washington County Detention Center near Hagerstown, said Terri Blair.
Blair attributes the jail's success rate to a thorough screening process that inmates must complete. "Some places don't ever consider their criminal history, but we do," said Blair.
Despite the periodic escapes, jail officials believe work-release is a vital part of the incarceration process.
Years ago, prisoners used to be released from prison with no money and no job, but work-release helps them to effectively return to society, said Towers.
Patuxent officials said work-release gives them a chance to see if an inmate is going to be able to effectively return to the work force. Inmates are supervised during their jobs to assess their progress and intervene if necessary, said Henry Richards, associate director of Patuxent.
Intervention may be necessary if an inmate picks a job that is not appropriate for the person, Richards said. An example would be a sex offender having a job which would involve entering private homes, said Richards.
"It sounds self-evident, but it's important to look out for," said Richards.