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Commissioner of Correction pledges help on local issues

April 03, 2007

Elsewhere on this page is a letter from John Rowley, Maryland Commissioner of Correction, replying to a Herald-Mail editorial that raises questions about the closing of the House of Correction in Jessup, Md., and how that would affect the local prison complex.

The letter is welcome for two reasons. It unequivocally answers the question about whether the inmate population about the Maryland Correctional Training Center will be increased after a new housing unit is built there.

No, said Rowley. Once the new unit is completed, the Quonset huts that now hold hundreds of inmates will be demolished.

That's good. As we have noted in several previous editorials, an overall increase in the number of inmates would almost certainly increase local government's costs.

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Why? Because if an inmate assaults another inmate or a correctional officer, the case is prosecuted by the local state's attorney's office - and taxpayers foot the bill!

The second concern we have is that when some inmates complete their sentences at one of the local state prisons, they don't return to the areas where they were living when they were convicted.

The Herald-Mail first reported on this phenomenon back in 1998, when reporter Brendan Kirby spent a day with Jackie McDonnell, a parole and probation agent.

The two visited a number of ex-offenders living locally and found that many of them had no real ties to the local community. They live here after their release, the story said, because they did their time at the Roxbury complex south of Hagerstown.

In an effort to address the problem, Richard A. Lanham Sr. sent all wardens a memo, which said when an inmate was released, he would be given a ticket and put on a bus.

Then the ex-offender would have to report to the parole and probation office in the jurdisiction where they were sentenced.

But there is a problem. Under state law, there is nothing to bar the ex-offender from returning here to live, especially if family members have migrated here to provide "local ties."

In 2006, a state task force looked into the problem, but there is still no permanent solution.

However, in his letter, Commissioner Rowley said he is committed to minimizing the impact of the prisons on the local county and has been working on solutions with local law enforcement, elected officials and the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

As we have said previously, those who have completed their sentence deserve a chance to become law-abiding citizens.

But the transition process requires services that the communities where inmates are released must either provide, or risk that the ex-offender will commit other crimes.

At the risk of seeming hard-hearted, Washington County has it share of home-grown ex-offenders. This county should not be asked to care for them and those from other jurisdictions as well.

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