Report points to an end of Patuxent experiment

February 06, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The 35-year experiment in trying to rehabilitate inmates at Maryland's Patuxent Institution appears to be coming to an end.

State prison officials and members of a House committee agreed yesterday that it may not be worth the trouble or the money to keep Patuxent running after receiving a new consultant's report that concludes Patuxent inmates are more likely to be rearrested after their release than other state prison inmates.

"This sounds like it signals the death knell for Patuxent," said Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees prison budgets.

Mr. Maloney and other members of his panel said that the state could no longer afford to spend as much as $3,000 more per inmate per year for psychological counseling at Patuxent if there is no evidence the program actually makes prisoners more likely to succeed after their release.

"I'm furious we're spending money on a program with absolutely no value," said Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery. "I'd say, 'Cut it out. It doesn't work.' "

But Joseph Henneberry, Patuxent's director since September 1989, said that if Patuxent does not work as expected, the legislature shares some of the blame for keeping it going all these years.

The General Assembly enacted broad reforms at Patuxent in early 1989, sharply limiting which inmates are allowed into the program and making it much harder for inmates to get out.

The legislature also ordered a study at that time to determine, among other things, the overall effectiveness of Patuxent's programs and a comparison of those who complete the program with inmates released from other state prisons.

Douglas McDonald, a sociologist who headed the study for Abt Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., told the committee, "There is no evidence Patuxent has a beneficial treatment effect. . . . We find no evidence it makes a difference."

"The actual probability of being arrested while under supervision following release is higher for Patuxent prisoners than for prisoners who were not admitted to Patuxent for treatment," the report states. Among the sample inmate group studied, 45 percent were arrested within three years of their release from Patuxent, compared with 37 percent of those who had transferred out of the Patuxent program before completing it, and 27 percent of those who were never admitted into Patuxent.

Mr. Henneberry -- noting how difficult it is to try to treat the psychopaths or other habitual criminals who were sent to Patuxent -- stressed that the reverse of those numbers indicates that "55 percent of almost untreatable people are still out there [in society]."

He said of Patuxent: "Fifty-five percent, maybe, is not enough."

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, said the report supported his own belief that "there is a mythical assumption that Patuxent was a rehabilitation institution while the rest of the [prison] system was 'lock 'em up and throw away the key.' "

Currently, there are about 1,000 inmates at the Jessup institution, half of them in Patuxent's counseling programs and the other half regular state prison inmates forced there by overcrowded conditions.

Mr. Robinson told the subcommittee that he intends to prepare a plan to use Patuxent for other purposes, including drug and alcohol addiction programs, special education, and "youthful offender" programs. But he said he would not present such a plan to the legislature until the 1992 General Assembly convenes a year from now.

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