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Prison to test program

Retiring officers to be replaced with counselors, educators

Retiring officers to be replaced with counselors, educators

May 21, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A new state policy that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment will be tested at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown.

Project RESTART, one of Gov. Robert Ehrlich's signature programs, also will be piloted at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women at Jessup, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1772 remains concerned that the program will compromise safety at the prison by reducing the number of correctional officers through attrition, said Vice President Andy Carbaugh.

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Vernarelli said safety will be the department's top priority as the program is phased in gradually.

As officers retire or leave, they'll be replaced by counselors and educators. Correctional officers are being encouraged to apply for the jobs, he said.

MCTC was chosen because it already has some programs in place that model RESTART, which stands for Re-entry, Enforcement and Services Targeting Addiction, Rehabilitation and Treatment.

One of them is a mentoring program that pairs young inmates with older inmates and correctional officers.

With 2,900 inmates, MCTC is the single largest male prison in the state, Vernarelli said.

More than one-third of the inmates there are age 25 and younger, which makes them good candidates for rehabilitation, he said.

"We thought this was the ideal location," he said.

Ehrlich had wanted to implement RESTART statewide.

Instead, the legislature cut its budget by more than half, to $1.2 million, and asked that the program be tested on a smaller scale first.

An October study suggested that MCTC could safely cut 29 of its 459 positions.

AFSCME has disputed the study, which claimed that the three-prison complex south of Hagerstown was overstaffed.

The study said the prisons could safely operate with 143 fewer correctional officers out of 1,228.

MCTC Warden J. Michael Stouffer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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