Md. to discipline others in wake of Thanos probe Prisons chief says at least 2 face personnel action

November 15, 1990|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's public safety secretary said yesterday that at least two more state employees will be disciplined as a result of a systemwide investigation into the mistaken early release of rapist and robber John F. Thanos, later charged with three murders.

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary for public safety and correctional services, told a House Appropriations subcommittee on corrections that his department's second investigation into Thanos' release would result in disciplinary action against state employees, though he was not specific.

After the hearing on a variety of corrections issues, Mr. Robinson told reporters that he expected personnel action to be taken against at least two additional employees, not necessarily within the Division of Correction.

He refused to be more specific, citing laws governing confidentiality in personnel matters.

Mr. Robinson's statement contradicted what he told state lawmakers two months ago, when he said disciplinary action would be limited to attempts to fire the former prison records supervisor who released Thanos 18 months early from Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County in April after misinterpreting a new policy.

Charges by the former supervisor, John P. O'Donnell, that he TC was being made a scapegoat in the release of Thanos prompted a second investigation. Mr. O'Donnell, who later be came a correctional officer, has been suspended without pay, pending a personnel hearing on his dismissal next month.

The second probe, officials say, led investigators to prison officials in Hagerstown, where Thanos once was held; to the state police, who arrested him on the Eastern Shore for indecent exposure after his release from prison; and to the Division of Parole and Probation, which could have picked him up for violating the terms of his release because of the indecent exposure charge.

A report on that investigation has been sent to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has yet to appoint an independent counsel to look into the way in which the prison system calculates inmate sentence lengths -- despite pledging five weeks ago that he would appoint someone to examine the Thanos case.

Mr. Robinson, whose prison agency has been slow to change, managed to escape criticism yesterday by legislators who consistently have shown their support for him, such as the subcommittee chairman, Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's.

Reforming the state's overburdened and antiquated prison system "is not an overnight process," Mr. Robinson told the lawmakers.

The public safety secretary said the Division of Correction finally is moving ahead with computerizing the state's method of calculating inmate sentence lengths -- a program first proposed more than five years ago but put aside by prison officials.

The computerization of inmate records is expected to be complete in 1992.

Mr. Robinson said the automation of the system would not have prevented Thanos' premature release, but it would have simplified the complicated system of calculating and recalculating by hand sentence lengths for the prison system's 17,700 inmates at least once a month.

A computerized system for calculating inmate sentence lengths for the Division of Correction was funded and could have been developed more than five years ago, but state prison officials instead implemented programs such as a computerized banking system for inmates working in prison, a legislative budget analyst told the subcommittee.

But there were other reasons the computerization was postponed, according to the report by the Department of Fiscal Services.

Among them:

* A lack of uniform legal interpretation among institutions, because prison officials interpret policies and standards differently.

* Incremental changes in Division of Correction policies, which "further exacerbate the problem of calculating [inmate sentence lengths] and impeded the development" of the computer program.

Acknowledging "a lack of continuity in philosophy," Secretary Robinson defended the Division of Correction's change in computerization priorities. He said that while the state first undertook the system in 1984, Virginia's computerization of the calculation process, on which Maryland is going to model its system, took seven years to develop.

Mr. Robinson also said the administration would submit legislation this year to clarify and simplify state laws governing how inmates' "good time" credits are calculated and applied.

He said that next year, for the 1992 session of the General Assembly, he plans to introduce legislation that would create a "massive" agency combining the Division of Correction, Division of Parole and Probation and other agencies within his department to streamline the overburdened "correctional services" system.

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