New chief of DOC says security is top priority

August 25, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - One day after being appointed acting commissioner of Maryland's Division of Correction, John Rowley acknowledged there are problems at some of Maryland's correctional facilities.

He also pledged his commitment to fixing those problems.

Rowley succeeds Frank C. Sizer, who announced his retirement Wednesday.

"We have a lot of strong facilities out there," he said. "And some facilities that are problematic with some of the issues that are going on out there."

One of the facilities he highlighted as having some well-publicized problems was Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, Md., where a correctional officer was stabbed to death in July.Rowley said officials were planning for the future use of that facility, but declined to discuss specifics.

"I can assure them there is a thorough review going on there," he said. "I will not permit that institution to go back to operating the way it was."


The inmate population at the Maryland House of Correction was reduced from about 1,250 inmates to 1,014, spokesman Mark Vernarelli said. Officials hope that soon the population there will be about 1,000 inmates.Correctional officers in Washington County have consistently complained about understaffing, leadership and safety concerns. Rowley said staffing levels in facilities throughout the state were under review.

The death of the correctional officer in Jessup came less than six months after a Roxbury Correctional Institution officer was fatally shot by an inmate in Hagerstown.

"It's not one specific thing that leads to an act of violence," Rowley said.

Once investigations reveal what might have contributed to the violence, adjustments will be made, he said.

Rowley said funding is always a problem for correctional facilities, not only those in Maryland.

"Can we use more funding? Absolutely. Always," he said.

Rowley said security and protecting employees and the public are always the Division of Correction's top priorities. He declined to discuss security issues publicly, but said steps were being taken to address safety problems in the state's facilities.

"I will be very proactive in providing security needs and supporting staff," he said.

Rowley said he was looking forward to meeting with staff throughout the state to build a good relationship with employees.

"I'll let them know they have a voice, and that's the best way for me to approach (the relationship)," he said. "Emphasize communication."

Ray Lushbaugh, local representative with Teamsters Local 103, said he was anticipating meeting with Rowley.

"I hope that while he's in the office, he'll take it in a different direction than what's been taken in the past," Lushbaugh said. "If it's like before or worse, we'll have to disagree."

He cited treatment of employees and security of the institutions as the primary concerns for staff. He said most employees were still adjusting to the news that the former commissioner retired.

"They're kind of saying, 'It's about time,' but they're maybe not real sure what's going to happen now," Lushbaugh said.

Rowley's resume:

· Aug. 18, 2006, named Assistant Commissioner for the Eastern Region of the Division of Correction.

· June 2005, hired as warden of the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup (Md.).

· 2002 to 2005, director of Aiken County Detention Center in South Carolina.

· 2001 to 2002, served as warden for Clarion County Corrections in Pennsylvania.

· 1993 to 2001, served as deputy superintendent for facility management for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

· 1990 to 1993, served as warden of Lawrence County Corrections in Pennsylvania.

· 1977 to 1990, served as assistant warden for Butler County Corrections in Pennsylvania.

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