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Cushwa says transition report nearly done

Former parole chairwoman serves on Gov.-elect O'Malley's advisory team

Former parole chairwoman serves on Gov.-elect O'Malley's advisory team

January 14, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT - The committee dissecting health care, education, transportation and other issues for Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley is nearly finished with its advisory report, committee member Patricia K. Cushwa said Friday.

Cushwa, a former Maryland parole chairwoman, is on the public safety subcommittee of the incoming O'Malley administration's transition committee.

O'Malley - along with Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony Brown - will be inaugurated on Wednesday, replacing Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who lost in the November general election.

Cushwa, of Williamsport, said the full transition committee's report will be made public, although she didn't know when.

"We expect that we will have a draft shortly after inauguration, then take time to finalize it," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said Friday.

He couldn't confirm that the final report would be publicly released.

In mid-November, O'Malley and Brown named about 40 people to the committee, including former Gov. Harry Hughes, former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs and an array of other people from industry, labor, politics, government, religion and education.

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Cushwa and Michael Harsh, a Hagerstown Community College speech, drama and English professor, represent Western Maryland. Harsh is on the higher education subcommittee.

Since the report hasn't been made public yet, Cushwa wouldn't speak much about its specifics.

However, she said, the public safety subcommittee made about five specific statutory and policy recommendations, including three major ones on department structure.

With three state prisons in Washington County, corrections is of particular interest. A Roxbury Correctional Institution officer, Jeffery A. Wroten, was one of the two Maryland correctional officers killed while on duty in 2006.

Frustrated by what they saw as an unresponsive Ehrlich administration, correctional employee unions supported O'Malley in the last election.

"People in Western Maryland really tried to get the governor's ear on staffing issues, overcrowding and how much more dangerous it is to govern a prison," but Ehrlich didn't pay enough attention, Cushwa said.

In August 2005, when correctional officers said they were down 100 positions just at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, Mary Ann Saar, the state's secretary of public safety and correctional services, told The Herald-Mail, "I think it's anywhere between 12 and 16 ... somewhere around there."

Cushwa said it's likely that officers were referring to positions cut or moved to create new rehabilitation programs, and Saar was referring to a study on adequate staffing.

"They weren't on the same page," she said.

Cushwa, a Democrat and outspoken O'Malley supporter, was on the Maryland Parole Commission for 12 years, including seven as chairwoman. She briefly was a state senator in 1990.

She said the state's parole and probation system, which sends thousands of offenders back to prison for technical violations, without input from judges, needs to be fixed.

Cushwa was appointed to a six-year term on the U.S. Parole Commission in 2004. She said that as a federal employee, she had to get the Department of Justice's approval to serve on O'Malley's transition committee.

She is using her window of time on the committee to speak out about an issue separate from the committee's report - mandatory release.

The state's procedure for releasing parolees from the prisons in Washington County into the community - leaving them at a bus station outside Hagerstown with money for a bus ticket home - has drawn pointed criticism in recent months.

Cushwa said a solution would be preparing a list, about two years in advance, of who will be released, then arranging a transfer through their home states.

Once inmates are released, Maryland no longer can dictate where they go.

"It has to be done on the front end," Cushwa said.

O'Malley hasn't said who will be his public safety and correctional services secretary, a position Cushwa called perhaps the toughest cabinet choice, governing a large, complex state department.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's, has accused O'Malley of moving too slowly to fill his cabinet, but O'Malley supporters have said he is being deliberate.

Saar announced in November that she would retire Wednesday. Cushwa said a deputy could run the department for a little while until O'Malley names a permanent successor.

Asked if she would be interested in the job, Cushwa wouldn't rule it out.

Abbruzzese wouldn't comment on who might be named secretary, saying it "undermines the process."

Harsh, the HCC professor, said his higher education subcommittee is scheduled to polish the first draft of its report on Wednesday.

Harsh and Cushwa said a key education issue is the state's reimbursement for out-of-state students at four-year colleges, but not community colleges, an imbalance that would take about $12 million to fix.

Harsh said his subcommittee also favors closer coordination of the needs of students before they graduate from high school and when they attend college.

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