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Mooney withdraws prison transfer bill

February 10, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Bowing to concerns from correctional workers, Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Washington/Allegany, has withdrawn a bill that would have repealed a rule that stops the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services from transferring employees to work sites more than 50 miles from their previous assignments.

The bill was scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee next week.

But correctional officers, fearing they would have to either move or commute, inundated Mooney with protests.

Even among his fellow legislators - including those from Western Maryland - "there was very little support for the bill," Mooney said.

Mooney said the bill resulted from allegations that the Western Correctional Institution in Cresaptown, Md., was a "racist environment" after a black inmate died last year while being restrained by several white correctional officers. The charge came from a Baltimore delegate, Mooney said.

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He said Mary Anne Saar, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, told a legislative committee that she could not put more minority officers in the Western Maryland facility because "your law prevents me from transferring people."

Mooney said he was trying to protect correctional officers from accusations of racism.

"I'm not saying these people are racist. I don't think they are, frankly," he said. The problem, he added, was the perception that they might be.

Since filing the bill, Mooney said, "I have heard serious concerns" from correctional officers. "I listened and I took to heart what they said."

In a letter to correctional officers who had contacted him, Mooney said, "it was my goal to protect corrections officers from future accusations by increasing racial diversity in the officer population. I do believe that my introduction of this legislation achieved my goal of increased discussions to ease racial animosity."

"Since introducing the bill, I have learned about potential negative ramifications which were not clear to me when I first introduced this legislation."

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