Prisoner release system needs overhaul, Robinson says

November 15, 1990|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson says the state system that classifies and releases prisoners needs a major overhaul to avoid the kind of mistake that resulted in the premature release of John Frederick Thanos.

Robinson also said two more state workers will be disciplined for their roles in the release of Thanos, who is charged with killing three people after being released. Robinson declined to identify the workers or give details of their punishment.

Robinson outlined his recommended reforms yesterday to state legislators. His proposals included computerization of the system and a rewrite of the rules.

Robinson was vague, however, on when the changes would be accomplished and what they would cost.

A top priority, he said, is computerization of the classification and release system, an idea the state launched six years ago but abandoned. Automating the system may take two years or more to accomplish. Robinson said he doesn't know how much it will cost.

Robinson told a legislative panel that in the near-term he wants to rewrite and clarify the law governing inmate releases, a complicated set of rules scattered through the Maryland law books.

Robinson said the changes are necessary in the wake of the premature release of Thanos, who was later charged with three murders.

Robinson has said Thanos was released early because an official at Eastern Correctional Institution incorrectly gave him double credit for some of the good-behavior credits he had earned in prison. That employee has been fired for his part in the release, but is fighting his firing.

Robinson said yesterday that two more employees will be disciplined for allowing Thanos to be released 18 months early. The secretary declined to give any details of the pending disciplinary actions.

Robinson said he also would like to:

* Retrain employees, including more supervisory staff, to calculate release dates for inmates. With complicated sentences handed down by judges and various early-release programs being administered, calculating release dates can be extremely confusing, Robinson said.

* Computerize the process and administer it from a central location. The state began a computerization project six years ago but gave up on fully implementing it because it wasn't "productive," one official said.

* Consolidate several agencies under his control, including the Division of Correction, the Parole Commission and the Division of Parole and Probation. He also would like to add an inspector general's office to handle investigations and audits. Robinson said the reorganization would have to wait until the 1992 legislative session, which is still 14 months away.

Robinson said the department has been overwhelmed by the numbers of inmates flooding the system in the last several years.

"We have had a lack of continuity in philosophy," Robinson said. "Therefore, we did not prepare ourselves adequately for this growth in population."

He said a commitment staff of 42 statewide handles roughly 300,000 inmate moves and record changes in a year.

Robinson said he would not even guess how much it would cost to computerize the commitment process. The automation could not begin, he said, until the existing manual system is revamped and improved.

"First you have to clean up the manual system," Robinson said. He said he would introduce a bill during the 1991 legislative session to rewrite the laws.

Robinson said prison officials had checked about 5,500 cases after Thanos' release and found four inmates who had been improperly released. It was not immediately clear what had happened to the inmates after the mistakes were detected. The division recently announced that one inmate was returned to prison after his premature release was detected.

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