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Delegation must push DOC for some answers

June 14, 2005

When Lloyd L. "Pete" Waters retired as warden of the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown in May 2003, he was replaced by Joseph Sacchet.

At the time, Waters, who had been in the correctional system since 1969, said he had been offered another post, but chose to retire instead. Sacchet resigned last week, but not because he wanted to spend more time on the golf course.

He had been on paid leave for three months prior to his resignation, but unlike Waters, Sacchet didn't leave with a smile on his face.

Instead, he blasted the leadership of the Maryland Division of Correction as dictatorial, elitist managers who had a "disregard for real public safety."

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Sacchet said he'd anticipated that DOC would trim 30 to 35 jobs at MCI-H. Instead, 82 positions were cut, he said.

Sacchet also said he was nit-picked by DOC officials on items such as prison cleanliness and his personal schedule.

In one case, he said, Michelle Elzie, a DOC assistant commissioner, questioned why he had dropped his children off at school before attending a meeting in Jessup, Md.

DOC officials haven't responded to Sacchet's fiery farewell and have called his leave a personnel matter.

A release from Mary Ann Saar, Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services secretary, thanked Sacchet for his service and said she is always willing to listen and respond to employee concerns.

OK, we'll take Saar at her word and say this: It's time for some answers. Bland expressions of appreciation won't cut it in this case.

Are Sacchet's concerns genuine or not? DOC officials need not comment on his performance to talk about whether, as he has charged, public safety is at risk.

Washington County Delegation Chairman Chris Shank said he was not surprised by Sacchet's resignation, adding that he didn't disagree with what was said about DOC's management style.

None of the delegation members disputed Shank's view. That's good. Their help will be needed to find out what is really going on.

The answer may be that Sacchet and other veteran correctional officers are having trouble adjusting to the Project RESTART initiative announced two years ago.

That plan, aimed at improving inmate rehabilitation efforts, is designed to gradually replace or retrain many correctional officers as counselors and/or case managers.

In 2003, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 92, which represents officers, said the union supported rehabilitation efforts, but not if the price were reduced safety.

So is this a clash of correctional philosophies or mismanagement by top officials of the DOC?

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, last week said the whole DOC is in turmoil, adding that "I certainly hope things turn around real quick."

They might - if the delegation is willing to keep pushing Saar and company, as they've done previously, to be more forthcoming and address officers' concerns. A few calls to Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who is Saar's boss, wouldn't hurt either.

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