McBee's jail assignment under review

April 06, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Although Randy Eugene McBee was classified by the state's correctional system as a medium-security risk, he was serving the balance of his sentence in one of Maryland's lowest-security prisons.

Correctional officials said McBee was placed in the prerelease system -- first at the Central Laundry Pre-Release Unit in Sykesville, and then the Eastern Pre-Release Unit in Church Hill -- so he could be "phased back" into society, rather than put back on the street from a medium-security prison.

Leonard A. Sipes, a Maryland corrections spokesman, said prison officials "are doing a cursory review" of the classification process that put McBee into the prerelease unit.

But one prison official said the decision was a judgment call rather than an apparent violation of procedure.

"Some felt that he would have a better chance if he was phased out through prerelease," said the official, who asked not to be named. "There's some disagreement over whether he should have been [sent to prerelease.] But it's a difference of opinion, not a screw-up."

McBee escaped from the Eastern Pre-Release Unit on March 23 and became the focus of a three-state manhunt. In the 11 days before he was captured, he allegedly went on a crime rampage, sexually assaulting three women, stealing firearms and cars, and tying up homeowners after breaking in.

Correctional officials say escaping from a prerelease unit is not difficult. There is little security because most inmates are nearing the end of their sentences and have a short wait to legal freedom. McBee was within one year of release.

Prerelease facilities rank behind the three other prison classifications: maximum, medium and minimum.

Cpl. J. Scott McCauley, a corrections spokesman, said McBee -- who was serving a five-year term for unarmed robbery -- seemed to be a suitable candidate for prerelease since he had no prison infractions in the past three years.

Previously, he had served nearly 15 years in West Virginia prisons on grand larceny and armed robbery convictions.

He had escaped twice from prisons in that state. But because those incidents occurred more than 10 years ago, they did not weigh as heavily in the decision to send McBee to prerelease, authorities said.

"If an inmate's release date is nearing, we often try to integrate them back into society. For whatever reason, this inmate did not want to be part of the program," Corporal McCauley said.

Maryland has other prerelease units in Hughesville (Charles County), Quantico (Wicomico), Jessup (Howard), and two in Baltimore. Although the facilities are staffed by correctional officers, they typically do not have fences and walk-offs are not uncommon.

Corporal McCauley said the Church Hill unit has had other cases of inmates walking off the premises, but none had gone on to be accused of serious crimes before McBee.

How McBee walked away from the facility has not been determined, officials said. He was present for a head count at 3:30 p.m. on March 23. But at a count two hours later, he was gone.

"It's very upsetting to the other inmates there, who feel this isolated incident will affect their chances of staying in the prerelease unit," Corporal McCauley said.

The unit has been in Church Hill since 1964 and houses 174 inmates.

Queen Anne's County Commissioner A.A. MacGlashan 3rd, whose son's house was broken into twice, allegedly by McBee, said local officials plan to meet with correctional officials to suggest putting up fences.

Also, he said he would suggest setting up a system that will let town residents know when a walk-off occurs.

"What we can do is make sure this doesn't happen again. This isn't the first battle we've had about this," Mr. MacGlashan said.

The state Division of Correction uses a classification team and a point system to rate the security risk of an inmate.

On July 22, 1992, that procedure determined McBee to be a medium security risk, correctional officials said.

He was at the medium-security institution in Hagerstown at the time.

But a month later, when correctional officials decided it would be beneficial to put him through the prerelease program, he was sent to the Sykesville laundry facility.

He was sent to Church Hill on March 19. Four days later, he escaped.

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