The order comes on the heels of Monday's revelation that convicted killer Charles Carpenter shot a Montana sheriff's deputy six weeks after he failed to return from an unsupervised weekend pass.
Carpenter, a former Clear Spring resident who shot his 77-year-old grandmother in 1982, was killed during the gunfight in Phillips County, Mont.
"Maryland is one of the toughest states in the nation," said Sipes, who added that state officials want to re-evaluate the program in light of Carpenter, who had been given permission to visit his half-sister in Baltimore.
Carpenter, who also had work-release privileges during the week, did not return as scheduled to the Patuxent Institution Re-Entry Facility in Baltimore on Aug. 10.
Another inmate who was serving a life sentence, Ronald Henderson, failed to return from a pass on Aug. 26, Sipes said. Henderson came back a few days later, he said.
After reviewing a list of the 26 inmates at the halfway house, Sipes said officials discovered eight were serving life terms and most of the rest were serving significant sentences for mostly violent crimes.
All of the inmates will be confined at the Patuxent Institution for the next 30 days while officials conduct the review, Sipes said.
Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the governor has fought hard to make sure violent criminals remain behind bars.
"We want to make sure that work-release is being done appropriately," he said. "I think people understand that the governor believes that people who are sentenced to life serve that sentence."
Victims' rights advocates in Washington County praised the decision to review the programs but questioned why it had not been done before.
"I never understood to begin with why people who have committed violent crimes are allowed weekend passes to see their loved ones when our loved once are never going to come back on a weekend pass," said Hagerstown resident Bonnie Ewing.
Ewing, a member of the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation, said violent criminals like Carpenter never should have been allowed outside prison walls.
"It really offends me. I feel the justice system has let us down anyway in a lot of ways," she said.
Revising the system is not as simple as it may sound, officials said. Glendening can deny parole for Patuxent inmates - and has - but he cannot overrule other privileges, Sipes said.
The law was changed in 1989 to narrow visitation and work-release privileges, Sipes said. But prisoners who were sent there before 1989 have been allowed to keep freedoms that they have earned, he said.
A series of cases in the 1990s have led state officials to conclude that the courts would overrule them if they tried to strip freedoms from inmates who have complied with the rules of the program, Sipes said.
Sipes said it is a view shared by many of the prisoners, whom he said have indicated they plan to fight any restriction in court.
"Some of the inmates, it was reported, were rather smug during the urinalysis," he said.