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Study: Prisons need fewer guards, more counselors

January 21, 2004|By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A Maryland Division of Correction study claims that the prison complex south of Hagerstown is overstaffed, contradicting officers' claims.

An October study said the prison complex can safely operate with 11.6 percent fewer correctional officers. It found that 143 of the 1,228 correctional officer positions are not required.

Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar said she has begun replacing those jobs with more social workers, substance abuse counselors, educators and case management staff.

No one is being laid off. All the cuts are being made through attrition, she said.

If the state does a better job of reforming inmates, they will be less likely to end up back behind bars, she said.

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"The bottom line is safer communities. They will become productive citizens. They will take care of their own families. They will be better role models for their children," she said.

Legislators grilled Saar about the initiative, called Project RESTART, at a House Appropriations Committee briefing Tuesday.

Del. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany, said he's talked to correctional officers who are upset about the job transfers and say the study is flawed.

"They're concerned with their own safety," Edwards said.

Deputy Secretary Mary L. Livers defended the study, saying the department brought in experts to show prison officials how to conduct a post-by-post analysis.

Since staffing cuts began last month, the climate in the prisons has been good, Livers said. She said she has talked to wardens across the state.

Del. Galen R. Claggett, D-Frederick, said the state should not sacrifice correctional officers in order to implement the program.

Other lawmakers on the committee said they were concerned about the cost and a lack of details for the program.

Saar said the basic initiative will cost $9.2 million.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich has set aside $3.1 million for the project and the department is looking for other ways to meet the costs, she said.

According to the study, the Maryland Correctional Institution could cut 83 of the 453 positions, the Maryland Correctional Training Center could cut 29 of its 459 positions and Roxbury could cut 31 of 316.

Many of the Jessup-area prisons are understaffed, the study said.

Saar said she was beefing up the number of correctional officers at those prisons.

In a separate interview later Tuesday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich defended Project RESTART as an innovative way to deal with prison overcrowding.

Since 1984, the state's prison population has doubled to 24,000, he said.

A status quo approach would be to build more prisons.

"That would not be leadership," he said.

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