Gov. William Donald Schaefer, "concerned" over recent blunders in the Division of Correction that allowed two criminals to be released early, will name an independent counsel to investigate the early-release program and the complicated process for calculating those releases, a spokesman said yesterday.
Earlier this week, Mr. Schaefer said that he would name a "special prosecutor" to look into the circumstances of the early release of rapist and robber John F. Thanos, who was later charged with killing three people.
The governor made the pledge after a former prison records clerk suspended for freeing Thanos raised questions about the release.
Mr. Schaefer now wants an independent assessment and investigation of the Division of Correction's entire commitment system, Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary, said.
"The governor is as concerned as everyone is about what has happened," Mr. Schurick said. "The governor has tremendous faith in Bishop Robinson [state secretary of public safety and correctional services]; nevertheless, the governor wants an independent assessment."
Among the governor's concerns, he said, is the fact that in a two-month period, two inmates mistakenly released by the Division of Correction have been charged with a total of four murders and one attempted murder.
In the second case, a flimflam artist was mistakenly released 7 1/2 months early from the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup because of lost paperwork. Within two weeks of being freed, Betty Virginia Rorie, 29, was alleged to have stabbed an elderly man to death and to have attempted to kill an elderly woman in Baltimore.
The woman, Evelyn Hewitt, 83, who survived at least a dozen stab wounds from an attack Aug. 7, said yesterday she was "angry" at the prison system, but would not pursue legal action against the state "right now."
"I just hope they keep her this time forever," Miss Hewitt said. "But I'm just going to let it go for now."
State lawmakers and victims' rights activists said yesterday they, too, shared the governor's concern about the latest bungling by the Division of Correction.
"I'm confident in the next few days we'll have an answer from the from theexecutive department, and if there's not an answer forthcoming, certainly the General Assembly will take action," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's County.
"We have to make sure that common sense prevails on this issue, but we have to be sure that the people we are elected to represent are protected from the hoodlums and hooligans of this world," he said.
Senator Miller said that, like the governor, he had confidence in Mr. Robinson and wanted to see if the problems could be resolved before proposing any action.
"I know the governor's concerned, and I think it's important that we at least await the results of the special counsel's report before shouting, 'Off with their heads,' " he said.
Anne F. McCloskey, head of the Maryland Coalition Against Crime, a victims' rights group, said she understood that the recent problem "probably reflects the [prison] overcrowding, the pressure the underlings are being subjected to to make room for the new crop [of inmates] and the work overload."
But Mrs. McCloskey laid the problem at the feet of Mr. Schaefer and state lawmakers.
"How long are the citizens of Maryland going to tolerate the situation and allow the legislators and our elected leaders to jeopardize public safety?" she asked. "The citizens have to rise up against the crime issue the way they have over the tax issue.
"Our government's first concern is supposed to be public safety, and they put it on the back burner," she said. "As soon as [citizens] demand that public safety be treated first and foremost is the only way we'll see any action."
Mrs. McCloskey called for the elimination of the state parole system, in which an inmate is released at the discretion of the Maryland Parole Commission, and of the provisions for the early release of inmates by the application of so-called "good-time" credits to their sentences.
Instead, she said, judges should set the amount of time an inmate actually serves behind bars, based on minimum and maximum sentence lengths established by law.
Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee on corrections and a supporter of Mr. Robinson, said, "Obviously, I'm dissatisfied."
The recent incidents are "symptomatic of a system that is broken," Mr. Maloney said.
"There's no question that DOC doesn't have a fully functional inmate classification system," he said. "The General Assembly sure has appropriated the money to improve the computer system. That's not where the fault lies."
Asked to identify the problem, he said: "Execution."
"We can demand accountability, but sometimes the management of people is strictly an executive branch responsibility," he said, noting that he has asked in writing for a status report on the computer system.
"I think this is on Bishop's doorstep right now, but I have complete confidence Secretary Robinson's going to do something about it," he said.
Mr. Schaefer's plans to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the overall commitment system come on the heels of Mr. Robinson's pledge Wednesday to appoint one of his assistants, Richard A. Lanham Sr., to review the Division of Correction's investigation of the Thanos release.
That investigation, performed by Maryland state troopers assigned to the internal investigation unit, re
sulted in the suspension without pay of John P. O'Donnell, 50, the former Eastern Correctional Institution records supervisor who signed the early-release papers April 5 for Thanos.
Mr. Robinson has said that Thanos' release was a mistake and that Mr. O'Donnell misapplied a new Division of Correction policy for calculating "good-time" credits on overlapping sentences.