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Prison jobs, releases have effect on area

August 12, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

Danny Stormes clutched a tattered black plastic bag as he sat at the Greyhound bus station on Sharpsburg Pike, waiting for the bus that would take him to Baltimore.

"This is what I own," Stormes said, holding out the plastic bag. "It's a real struggle."

He had been released from the Maryland Correctional Training Center just hours earlier on this June day. His son was to meet him in Baltimore, and from there, Stormes would head for his home on the Eastern Shore.

In fiscal year 2006, 1,031 inmates were released from the three medium-security state prisons south of Hagers-town. Not all left the area.

Some local officials blame released inmates for some of the crime in the area, and have met with Maryland's attorney general to discuss the prisons' inmate-release policy.

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At the same time, the three medium-security prisons, which house about 6,700 inmates, bring jobs and state money to the area.

The state's fiscal 2008 budget authorizes 1,703 positions at the prisons south of Hagerstown, about 80 more positions than were authorized in the last fiscal year.

Expenditures for the three prisons, including salaries, contractual services, materials and supplies hit $149.3 million in fiscal year 2007 and is budgeted at $159.9 million in the current fiscal year, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The Division of Corrections is the sixth-largest employer in Washington County according to Tim Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Crime concerns

The Division of Parole and Probation in Washington County last year supervised 69 cases involving former inmates who were sentenced in other jurisdictions.

Of those, 25 had prior ties to Washington County. The remaining 44 former inmates had no ties to the area.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said he recognizes the positive economic impact the prisons have on Hagerstown, but called the prison complex a "mixed blessing" because of a trade-off in increased crime.

Smith said he believes the prisons contribute to local crime. He cited several local cases, including that of Maurice Frock Jr., a former inmate who was convicted of theft in a burglary at Bentley's Bagels in downtown Hagerstown.

Former inmates are dropped off at the bus station on Sharpsburg Pike, but nothing happens to them if they don't report to parole and probation soon thereafter, Smith said.

Even if they fail to report to the parole and probation office within 24 hours and provide information on where they plan to live, an intake file is opened, listing the offender as a nonreporter, said Elizabeth Bartholomew, public information officer for the state Division of Parole and Probation.

Parole officers visit the address listed in prison files for the offenders, and send letters to those addresses in an attempt to contact the offenders, Bartholomew said.

If the person never reports, a warrant is issued, she said.

"We make every attempt to get them," she said.

Prison officials notify Smith when inmates are released, and identify for the police chief any who were members of gangs while they were inside, Smith said.

Smith said he passes along information about major drug dealers to his investigators.

"Pretty much every drug dealer coming out of jail will go back to selling drugs ... it's a business decision," Smith said.

Smith sends his gang officers out to visit the identified gang members who settle in Hagerstown. That way, "They know we know where they're living," Smith said.

Some released prisoners stay in Hagerstown because they make connections to the city while they're incarcerated, Smith said.

Prisoners on work release make connections within the community as a result of their jobs. In some cases, people move here to be closer to their incarcerated husbands, boyfriends and sons, giving inmates an incentive to stay in Hagerstown when they get out, Smith said.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said he worries that the Division of Correction's gang problem inside the prisons "will be transferred to Washington County by virtue of the DOC."

Smith and Mullendore were among a group of Washington County officials who in July discussed the state's prison release policy with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

Mullendore said he believes offenders released from prison should be returned to the county from which they entered the system.

"Unfortunately the Division of Correction has taken the position that it's not a problem, that's why we went to the attorney general," he said.

The Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention recently announced that Hagerstown was awarded $50,700 in grant money to fund a crime analyst position. The analyst will track criminal trends and recently released offenders - including gang members - from the prison system, Smith has said.

Washington County recently was awarded $76,168 in grant money to hire a prosecutor to work with the crime analyst.

Those who stay

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