Parole chief forced out Resignation follows candidness about agency problems

September 04, 1993|By Marina Sarris and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Marina Sarris and William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writers

Nancy J. Nowak, Maryland's director of parole and probation, was forced to resign this week because of candid remarks she made about her agency's problems in a published report.

Ms. Nowak, 38, the highest-ranking woman in Maryland's

Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, yesterday cited "personal and professional reasons" for her resignation from the $68,300-a-year post.

But state government sources said Ms. Nowak's boss, Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, pressured her to resign. They said he was angry about a comment attributed to her in an article in The Sun on Sunday.

The article said that 2,092 violent and serious offenders on parole or probation were not being supervised by Ms. Nowak's agency because of understaffing. It also quoted an internal memo in which Ms. Nowak described the situation as a "time bomb."

That remark, which sources said was overly frank, appeared to have been the final straw in a strained relationship with Mr. Robinson that dates to 1991. That year Ms. Nowak, then a top aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, oversaw a controversial program in which the governor freed some battered women who were in prison for killing their alleged abusers.

In January, Ms. Nowak became chief of the parole and probation division and began identifying long-standing problems -- such as the unsupervised offenders -- soon afterward.

Sources said her outspokenness about the problems with parole, probation and home detention programs ruffled the feathers of higher-ups, who could be perceived as holding some responsibility for them.

Ms. Nowak also picked up some enemies in the General Assembly this year for her role in the political downfall of their former colleague, John S. Arnick, who withdrew from a judgeship because of allegations that he used vulgar language during a meeting with her.

But it was Ms. Nowak's "time bomb" remark in The Sun that triggered her ouster, according to sources. Ms. Nowak should have known better than to use such strong language in a memo that could wind up in the hands of the news media, one official said.

"It was shocking for an agency head to admit there's a problem. And the story may have created a fear among readers that there are convicted offenders who are ready to commit a new crime any minute and who are living next to them," another said.

Mr. Robinson said through a spokesman that he would have no comment on the resignation. The governor was out of the office yesterday and unavailable for comment.

W. Roland Knapp, head of the parole and probation division's Bureau of Field Operations, will be the division's acting director until a permanent replacement is found, Mr. Robinson's spokesman said.

Other officials said Ms. Nowak will be moving this month to a new state job in the Department of Juvenile Services, headed by her longtime mentor, Mary Ann Saar. Ms. Nowak will earn about $49,000 writing grant proposals beginning Sept. 20.

Ms. Nowak has been one of Mr. Schaefer's top criminal justice advisers since 1989.

When she moved to the parole and probation division in January, she found herself at the helm of an agency with a long history of budget, morale and policy problems. Division employees and union officials were complaining about unmanageable caseloads and severe understaffing.

But before she had time to settle in, Ms. Nowak was dragged into a messy battle during the legislative session over Mr. Arnick, popular former delegate who had been nominated for a seat on the Baltimore County District Court.

During the confirmation proceedings, a female lobbyist accused Arnick of making vulgar and sexist remarks to her and Ms. Nowak during a 1992 dinner meeting.

Ms. Nowak remained silent for several days but she finally issued a statement confirming the lobbyist's account. Scores of angry citizens began urging their senators to reject Mr. Arnick, and he asked that his nomination be withdrawn.

Ms. Nowak's position during the controversy appeared to be an awkward one because Mr. Schaefer had nominated Mr. Arnick.

As director of parole and probation, Ms. Nowak oversaw 1,100 employees and a budget of about $43 million this year. The division keeps track of about 127,000 offenders on parole, probation or mandatory release from prison.

Ms. Nowak is probably best known for her efforts, while an aide to the governor, to draw attention to battered-spouse syndrome, a psychological condition in which prolonged domestic abuse provokes a victim to violence.

She was key to persuading Mr. Schaefer in February 1991 to commute the sentences of eight women -- including seven who killed their mates -- because they were said to suffer from the syndrome.

The commutations drew criticism after it was learned that -- unknown to the governor -- one of the women had undertaken to kill her estranged husband knowing that she would profit from life insurance policies; another was charged with threatening a witness after being released on bail for killing her boyfriend; and a third could provide no corroboration of any of the abuse.

Sources said that Mr. Robinson had been unhappy with that controversy and negative stories in the press.

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