A corrections task force proposal to keep Patuxent Institution separate from the state Division of Correction system has gotten a cold reception from a panel of state lawmakers considering whether the unique facility should be converted to a conventional prison.
Stressing education as a tool to reform certain inmates, a task force appointed by state Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Bishop L. Robinson is recommending that the population of Patuxent be reduced to 800 inmates from 1,000 and that inmates be limited to youthful offenders in their early 20s who are substance-abusers or suffer from serious mental disorders.
Task force members said proposed "psycho-education" programs that include schooling and efforts to build self-esteem among a young inmate population would help lower recidivism. They would be aimed at young inmates who are too violent for the prison system's youth boot camp.
Except for those with mental illnesses, inmates would stay no longer than three years and then be returned to the regular prison system.
Robinson warned that Maryland's total inmate population could jump from its current level of 21,000 to 30,000 by the year 2000 if prisons do little more than warehouse convicts.
"I'm not saying it's a panacea," he said. "I'm saying it's worth a try."
But the plan, unveiled yesterday in Annapolis before a House subcommittee, drew quick criticism from lawmakers who noted that it came a day after state budget cuts brought an end to existing education programs at Patuxent.
Implying that the task force recommendations were little more than modifications of programs tried with little success in the past, the legislators gave Robinson little encouragement.
"Refine your proposal," suggested subcommittee chairman Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's. "Nothing's going to happen until we get some more money and that's not going to happen this week."
Maloney's reference to funding was partly in jest because state agencies, including the correction system, are likely to undergo another round of budget cuts before the end of the calendar year.
Even without money problems, some lawmakers said it is time to scrap the philosophy behind Patuxent because it has been unsuccessful.
Patuxent, which has a unique treatment program designed to reform prisoners through psychological therapy, came under fire 1988 after it approved unsupervised furloughs for Robert Daly Angell, who was serving three consecutive life terms for murdering two Montgomery County police officers and a teen-ager.
In a second incident a few weeks later, a Patuxent inmate serving a 25-year sentence for a rape was arrested for raping a woman while on work release from the Jessup facility.
During the 1989 session, the legislature tightened admissions and parole standards. The prison's early-release program, which provided inmates with an incentive to change their attitudes, was scrapped, and the number of inmates leaving on work-release and furlough programs was drastically reduced.
Inmates released from Patuxent were actually more likely to return to jail than those who served time in the state's regular prisons, according to a study conducted earlier this year.
The year-long study showed that 45 percent of inmates who left Patuxent between 1977 and 1988 were rearrested within three years.