Patuxent director to discuss informing residents about releases Jessup group demands action

October 15, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

Patuxent Institution's director will meet with the citizens advisory board for eight Jessup prisons Thursday to discuss how to inform residents about the release of prison inmates.

Joseph Henneberry, Patuxent's top official, said he would be willing to give names of inmates about to be released from his institution to members of the Citizens' Advisory Board for Correctional Institutions, Jessup.

Also scheduled to attend the meeting are the warden of Patuxent and the wardens of Jessup's seven other prisons.

Mr. Henneberry agreed to appear at the meeting after complaints from board member Melanie Gutjahr that residents are not told when potentially dangerous criminals are released from Jessup's prisons.

Ms. Gutjahr was angered by the case of Thurman Alexander Moore, who was arrested on charges of attempted rape less than two months after being released from the Division of Correction's Mental Health Unit at Patuxent Institution.

Patuxent opened in 1955 as a prison designed to treat criminals with "psychopathic personalities," those aware of the consequences of their acts but unable to control their impulses.

In December 1991, the Division of Corrections began sending to Patuxent inmates with "acute mental disorders," instead of keeping them in regular prisons with separate doctors. The move has saved the state $850,000 a year.

Moore, who was convicted in 1974 of raping an 11-year-old girl, was sent to the Mental Health Unit at Patuxent in July 1992 because of mental illness. He was freed July 14 on a mandatory release with time off for good behavior, after serving 19 years of a 25-year sentence.

On Sept. 2, Moore was arrested again, this time on charges that he attempted to rape a Columbia woman. He is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 5.

Ms. Gutjahr, a two-year member of the citizens advisory board, was angered that she learned about Moore's release only when he was arrested.

"Somebody who had been convicted of a violent crime was being released into our community without the community being informed," said Ms. Gutjahr, who is also a volunteer counselor for the Howard County Sexual Assault Center's 24-hour hot line. "I don't think that is right."

Ms. Gutjahr said that she immediately called Patuxent, as a member of the Jessup citizens advisory board, to question the prison about the Moore case.

The seven-member board represents the community of about 6,500 people around the eight prisons. Members are appointed by the governor to bring community concerns to prison wardens or directors, the Division of Corrections, the state legislature and the governor.

Ms. Gutjahr wants the Jessup prisons to provide lists of inmates scheduled for release on a regular basis. "The community at large has a right to know," she said.

Mr. Henneberry, who has taken special interest in the issue because Moore was housed at his institution, said that he supports Ms. Gutjahr's proposal and would be willing to issue regular statements about pending releases.

"It alerts people" to know that a potentially dangerous person has been freed, Mr. Henneberry said. "I do appreciate their fear and anxiety. I can see their point."

But he is concerned about rehashing the history of prisoners who have completed their sentences and paid their debt to society.

"Is it morally right?" Mr. Henneberry asked. "Is he going to be branded for the rest of his life?"

Legally, information on those released from prison is available to the public, but it is limited to the conviction, the sentence and the institution that released the person, said Leonard Sipes, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Residents can go to a local police station and request a list of inmates recently released from local prisons, Mr. Sipes said. "The department has encouraged -- strongly encouraged -- interaction between law enforcement agencies and the community," he said.

But Ms. Gutjahr said it would be difficult for people to check with police every day to find out who was being released from a Jessup prison.

"I think [a list of names] should be provided to the community," she said.

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