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New prison chief arrives with a gift

September 02, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Could it really be that simple?

That's the question I asked myself Wednesday morning after Gary Maynard, Maryland's new Public Safety secretary, announced his department had initiated a policy to discourage inmates released from the local state prison complex from remaining in this area.

This issue has been batted around since March 1998 and the only progress up until now has been a Division of Correction agreement to give inmates who are released a bus ticket back home.

But they didn't have to use that ticket. Indeed, some cashed them in, walked across the street from the Sharpsburg Pike bus station and bought liquor with the money.

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"The way we were doing it didn't make sense," Maynard said. "I saw a flaw in it early on."

In a policy that took effect Aug. 27, inmates who've finished their time here will be driven by DOC to the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, then released from there.

Maynard, who took over from Mary Ann Saar, has experience in the prison systems of Oklahoma, South Carolina and Iowa. He said the new prisoner-release policy here is modeled on one used in an Oklahoma work-release system more than 30 years ago.

Based on what Maynard said, it will not be the only change. Maynard said he would seek to increase inmate work details, expand the skill training in the local prisons and remove disruptive inmates from the general population as quickly as possible.

"Nobody works inmates better than I do," Maynard said, adding that he had promised Commissioners President John Barr that he would be glad to provide inmate labor for needed projects.

"All he has to do is tell me where the dirtiest, ugliest place in this community is and we'll clean it up for free - once," Maynard said.

More jobs for inmates are needed inside the prisons, Maynard said, because an inmate who learns a marketable skill is less likely to return to the institution.

That training has been cut over the years, Maynard said, and the trend needs to be reversed. A $9 million profit made by what used to be called the State-Use Industries has been appropriated for other prison-related programs, Maynard said. It needs to be returned, he said, so the system can create more factories and more inmate jobs.

It is not coddling inmates to teach them a skill, Maynard said, because that makes it less likely they will create more crime victims after their release.

To deal with gang problems and inmates who assault staff, Maynard said that even before the decrepit House of Correction was closed, DOC agreed that infractions would be dealt with immediately by causing the inmate to "disappear."

Offenders are told to put their goods in a cardboard box, then immediately transferred to another facility, Maynard said. As a result, assaults on staff have dropped, Maynard said.

Maynard spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Hagerstown-Washington Chamber of Commerce. He answered questions on some of the following topics:

· Closing the House of Correction did affect the local prison complex because transfers took up some of the beds normally kept in reserve, Maynard said. The situation should be relieved somewhat when two more units open at the state prison in Cumberland.

· A prison's progress with an inmate is judged successful if he or she does not re-offend within three years, Maynard said.

The rate at which inmates re-offend during that three years is called recidivism. The national rate is 50 percent, in Iowa (Maynard's last post) it was 35 percent and in Maryland, it's 55 percent.

Maynard said that Iowa's success is due to the fact that it has a community correctional system that helps inmates transition back into society, something he hopes to duplicate here.

· Prisoners who come into the system are assessed for two things, Maynard said - the security threat they pose and the needs they have.

If an inmate doesn't have a GED, he or she needs to get one before leaving the system. If inmates have drug and alcohol issues, they need treatment for that, preferably close to their release date, Maynard said.

· The strategy needed to deal with gang violence will involve more than the prisons, Maynard said.

"It's a matter of getting the subject matter experts together and putting together a strategy to deal with the root problem of these issues," he said.

· Proper staffing of the prisons depends on good analysis, Maynard said. If a post must be staffed 24 hours a day, because of vacations, sick time and the like, there must be enough people assigned to that post to cover all the hours and then some, Maynard said.

After the House of Correction was closed, many officers were transferred to other prisons in the Jessup, Md. area, Maynard said. For the first time in their history, some of those institutions were fully staffed, he said.

· Inmates' "home plans" that use (for example) the Union Rescue Mission as their address will be closely scrutinized, Maynard said. But if they truly have family in the area, such as parents, allowing them to stay here would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Maynard said he doubted that the problem of nonlocal inmates staying in this area was as serious as some believe. But he's smart enough to know that in many cases, perception is reality and he moved quickly to quell that concern. The talk sounded good, and if he can walk the walk, too, he'll deserve even more applause than he got on Wednesday.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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