Home detention is urged Memo to wardens cites 'record decline'

June 22, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Maryland Correction Commissioner Richard A. Lanham Sr. is prodding wardens to increase the number of prisoners recommended for the state's home-detention program, citing a "record decline in the number of inmates referred" for home detention.

Mr. Lanham ordered the wardens in a June 15 memo to instruct their prison staffs "to only disapprove those inmates who are unquestionably not suitable" for the program, in which inmates are monitored electronically while serving their sentences at home.

In the memo, Mr. Lanham told the wardens to have their staffs:

* Screen all inmates who are within eight months of their mandatory release dates.

* Reconsider any inmates who were previously disapproved for home detention, but who are within 120 days of release.

* Screen all inmates who have been approved for delayed parole release and are now within the time frame for consideration.

Once the prison staffs identify inmates who could be eligible, the candidates' names are to be forwarded to headquarters for further investigation for possible placement in home detention.

Inmates in the program wear anklets containing radio transmitters that allow the state to monitor their location.

Mr. Lanham said yesterday that the downturn in the number of inmates in the program was "cyclical," and that the memo was intended to spur the wardens to recommend more prisoners for home detention -- an alternative to incarceration intended to ease crowding.

He said he has sent similar memos to wardens in the past.

The home-detention program is one option being pursued by corrections officials as they struggle to address crowding in the prison system -- which is straining with nearly 20,000 inmates behind bars. Maryland's prisons were built to hold fewer than 13,000 inmates.

Mr. Lanham's order followed by two weeks the Board of Public Works' approval of a $1.2 million sole-source purchase of 600 home-detention units for inmates after corrections officials calculated that it would be cheaper for the state to buy -- rather than continue leasing -- the units.

The state bought the units from Vorec Corp. of Millwood, N.Y., which is represented locally by a company owned by lobbyist Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt, the one-time patronage chief for former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Mr. Lanham said yesterday that his memo and the purchase were unrelated.

"I didn't do it in response to that," he said. "I get a copy of the numbers every day, and I started to see they were going down."

That, he said, was the reason for the memo.

The number of inmates in home detention has fallen off from a record 419 prisoners on March 11, said Richard A. Sullivan, who administers the Division of Correction's Central Home Detention Unit for the state.

There were 354 inmates in the program yesterday, he said.

Program participants are inmates from the Division of Correction, released inmates under the supervision of the Division of Parole and Probation, prisoners at the Baltimore City Detention Center who are awaiting trial, and inmates already sentenced to terms at the detention center.

Mr. Sullivan said a variety of reasons contributed to the downturn, including inmates who were in home detention being paroled or released because they have served their sentences.

Another problem, he said, is that the home-detention program is in competition with other prison programs for inmates who pose lower security risks, including the prison system's boot camp program and the new Occupational Skills Training Center for inmates re-entering society.

Participants in home detention must meet certain criteria, Mr. Sullivan said.

Generally, he said, inmates eligible for the program cannot be serving time for a crime of violence, including use of a handgun in commission of a felony, nor serving time for child abuse or escape.

For those convicted of drug possession or distribution, the inmates can be eligible only if they are within six months of their release date.

Once a list of possible home detainees is culled from each prison's inmates, a second review process is undertaken at headquarters, where case management personnel consider suitability for the program based on the inmate's history, in and out of the institution.

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