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Making corrections

February 25, 2006|By TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN -

Salaries, staffing and safety topped Gov. Robert Ehrlich's agenda as he and Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar visited Roxbury Correctional Institution on Friday afternoon.

Ehrlich and Saar met with wardens from all three prisons at the complex south of Hagerstown, as well as Western Correctional Institution and North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland.

After the meeting, Ehrlich said he wanted to sit down with the wardens to review lobbying efforts for saving his proposed salary increases for correctional officers, and talk about potential "long-term structural reforms" to housing offenders, many of whom will return to society at some point.

"We had a frank and blunt discussion about what has to happen in this year's General Assembly," Ehrlich said.

Specifically, Ehrlich, Saar and correctional officers want approval of $15.5 million to make pay increases in the governor's fiscal 2007 budget proposal retroactive to January.

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Ehrlich proposed the retroactive pay in January. This month, a budget analysis by the Department of Legislative Services recommended against approval of the retroactive pay.

Warren G. Deschenaux, director of the Office of Policy Analysis, told The Herald-Mail on Friday that the cut was recommended because Ehrlich's budget proposals exceed the state's spending affordability index by $100 million, and the budget had to be cut.

He said the governor had "made that commitment without consulting the General Assembly," which must approve the funds.

"One of the things that tend to make the legislators angry is to be disrespected by the executive," Deschenaux said. But he added that the legislators "are free not to do what we recommend."

Ehrlich repeated Friday that the pay raises are necessary to attract applicants to fill existing vacancies in the state's prisons.

"Right now we're dealing with the realities of economics," he said. Because the Maryland has a "hot economy," Ehrlich said attracting applicants to work in a dangerous environment is difficult.

Ehrlich also used the visit to push Project RESTART (Re-entry Enforcement Services Targeting Addiction Rehabiitation and Treatment). Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown is one of two pilot sites for RESTART.

The governor has proposed expanding the program in his 2007 budget proposal, asking legislators during his annual State of the State address last month to support it.

On Friday he said the program would help make prisons safer by keeping the inmates occupied.

MCTC Warden J. Michael Stouffer agreed.

He said his staff is "actively doing what needs to be done to implement RESTART. By and large, they see the value of it."

Inmates spending time in the program "are not doing things that are disruptive," he said, adding that providing the counseling, treatment and skills training involved is "sound correctional practice."

Even so, Saar said some inmates are not amenable to treatment and must be contained. Saar said corrections officials are looking at ideas for constraining those prisoners while helping those who can be rehabilitated.

Ehrlich said he'd been disappointed by the reception RESTART was given in the General Assembly, and that continued restrictions on funding would be "unacceptable."

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