Correction deputy to return to being a warden Coplin's move triggers other changes

April 07, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Maryland Deputy Correction Commissioner Merry L. Coplin, who has been touted as a possible correction chief and even public safety secretary, is stepping down, effective today, to return as warden of a Baltimore prison, officials confirmed yesterday.

The abrupt departure of Mrs. Coplin, who again will run the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, forced the reshuffling of personnel in some of the Division of Correction's top jobs, officials said.

Mrs. Coplin's leaving the No. 2 spot, which she has held since July 1990, when she was promoted from the reception center, "was voluntary," said Cpl. J. Scott McCauley, a Division of Correction spokesman. He would not comment further, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

Her reassignment, however, apparently was related to style and personality differences with Correction Commissioner Richard A. Lanham Sr., said officials familiar with the shake-up, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

In addition, those officials said, Mrs. Coplin in recent months seemed increasingly disenchanted with the handling of mounting problems in the overburdened prison system -- which is plagued with a mushrooming inmate population, personnel shortages and budget limitations.

Corporal McCauley would not comment on those reports.

Mr. Lanham referred all inquiries to his spokesman. Mrs. Coplin was on leave and unavailable for comment yesterday.

Melanie C. Pereira, warden of the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women at Jessup, takes over today as deputy commissioner -- though she will not oversee the prison system's medical services contracts, which had been one of Mrs. Coplin's primary responsibilities, Corporal McCauley said.

Dr. Anthony Swetz, a psychologist with the Division of Correction since 1983, was named last Wednesday as assistant correction commissioner. He will be responsible for the agency's medical services, including contracts for medical providers in state prisons, Corporal McCauley said.

James A. Carter, the warden at the reception center, moves to the women's institution today, he said.

Mrs. Coplin is credited with overhauling a variety of programs in the Division of Correction, including the system's medical program and the record-keeping procedures for inmates' sentences.

During her tenure as deputy, she also played a major role in rewriting policies for handling inmates infected with the AIDS virus, which was key to resolving a four-year-old federal lawsuit in February 1992, correction officials said.

Mrs. Coplin, a Baltimore native known for being outspoken and direct, was an official at a New York State correction facility, before returning to Maryland in September 1979 to take a job as public information officer for the Division of Parole in Probation.

Less than a year later, in July 1980, Mrs. Coplin took over as warden of the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, after being chosen from among 30 candidates in a nationwide search. She was named the first warden of the reception center in October 1981, a week before it opened.

Ms. Pereira, who started with the Division of Correction as a correctional officer in 1975, was assistant warden at MCIW for 3 1/2 years before being named warden in April 1991. She trained under Mrs. Coplin, when the outgoing deputy was warden of the women's institution and is the only woman warden in the prison system.

Dr. Swetz began his career with the agency in 1983 as chief psychologist at Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown.

Until his promotion last week, he oversaw the prison system's addictions education program and social work program.

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