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Prison situation must change before tigers get too hungry

July 09, 2005|By

I read Maryland Corrections Secretary Mary Ann Saar's letter of June 25 as a political attempt to ensure the public that she is committed to safety for Maryland citizens as well as for staff and inmates.

She gives us a "wink" and tells us she is spending over $1 million on equipment, as if that little token will make her prison employees feel a whole lot safer. It is unfortunate that Saar has not yet grasped the importance of staff safety and further, does not recognize that there are many elements to building a safe institution. I also read with interest Warden Joseph Sacchet's letter of resignation and his description of Public Safety leadership as "dictatorial" and "elitist."

Saar's letter offers a weak explanation for those who work in the prisons. The reality is, most prison employees do not feel safe under Saar's changes. More and more legislators from around the state are voicing similar concerns. The incidents which have occurred under her watch have illuminated the many problems that exist. If she were evaluated by the current "performance appraisal" tool applied to other state employees, she would fall into the "needs improvement" category.

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When she arrived as the secretary, I would assume she established some basic objectives and performed an analysis of the problem in her agency. Staff and inmate safety and the security of the institution should always be top priorities. Those voices of employees, union representatives, legislators and citizens of the state do not provide a vote of confidence in regard to her success in these areas.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside, with 12,000 troops, had a plan to rid some 450 Georgia riflemen from a hill during the battle of Antietam. His plan was to attack the hill by way of a one-lane bridge. The results for Gen. Burnside and his troops during this skirmish were disastrous. Although he did manage eventually to chase the riflemen from the hill, the carnage left behind on the bridge because of his plan were many. The moral of the story take a little more time to study and finalize your plan before implementation and never use a one-lane bridge for attack. In regard to Warden Sacchet's opinion of public safety officials as "dictatorial" and "elitist," I would offer a remark from Winston Churchill consideration. Churchill once commented that "Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry "

Your agency, Secretary Saar, reeks of many, many problems. A lot of them you inherited many of them you have created. Employee safety should be your priority with the security of the institution and inmate safety deserving equal status. When you have a safe and secure prison environment, treatment programs and other initiatives are more likely to succeed. Without the safety and security issues resolved, any initiatives you may offer will be doomed to failure.

Your legacy in public safety history will be recorded in much the same manner as Civil War history records Gen. Burnside's battle plan at the Burnside Bridge. I don't really believe that you and your staff use "dictatorial" means with your workers. That would be contrary to management strategies that work. I am truly hoping that you will disregard politics, throw away your current management book and strive to make the Department of Public Safety a better place when you leave than the way you found it. Why? It's the right thing to do and besides, "the tigers are getting hungry "




Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a retired warden with 34 years experience in corrections.

He lives in Washington County.

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