About 7,800 offenders free on parole and probation in Maryland -- including several hundred killers, rapists and robbers -- no longer will be left unsupervised by state authorities.
Parole and probation agents will begin monitoring those convicted criminals this month or early next year, officials said last week. The policy change comes five months after the chief of the state's parole division was ousted for calling attention to the unsupervised cases.
"These offenders were designated by the courts and by the Parole Commission to be supervised, and they will be supervised henceforth," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the public safety department.
The unsupervised cases had been allowed to languish and accumulate since the recession forced cuts in the state parole and probation budget in 1991, causing staffing shortages.
Parolees are offenders who have been released early from prison for good behavior, while probationers have been sentenced by a judge to supervision in the community. Both are supposed to be monitored by agents, who try to ensure that they obey the law, work or attend school, pay court-ordered fees and receive drug treatment if necessary.
In order to accommodate the influx of unsupervised cases, all 600 agents in Maryland will be given less specialized and, in some cases, larger caseloads, Mr. Sipes said. Currently agents specialize in high- or medium-risk offenders.
Mr. Sipes said that the parole and probation agency also will be reorganized and will get 35 more temporary and permanent agents who were hired to fill existing vacancies.
The 7,800 unsupervised offenders are a minority compared with the more than 50,000 people being monitored by parole and probation officials across Maryland.
But they have been a thorn in the agency's side since August, when parole and probation chief Nancy J. Nowak acknowledged the problem in an internal memo that was obtained by The Sun. In the memo, she called the problem "a time bomb."
Ms. Nowak, who had assumed her post in January, told The Sun that she wanted to find out how so many offenders ended up in the "administrative" or unsupervised category. She asked staff to determine whether some cases had been dumped there by overworked agents to make way for newer cases.
Ms. Nowak's superiors were furious at the article, top government sources said, and she was forced out of her job within the week. Bishop L. Robinson, Maryland's top public safety official, has denied pressuring Ms. Nowak to resign.
He also criticized The Sun for publishing Ms. Nowak's estimate that 2,092 of the 7,800 unsupervised offenders had been convicted of violent crimes. A top assistant to Ms. Nowak made an "honest mistake" when he gave her that figure last summer, Mr. Robinson said.
In truth, he said, only 804 of the 7,800 had been convicted of violent crimes. The rest had committed nonviolent offenses.
The 804 violent offenders included 228 killers, 262 robbers, 76 sex offenders, 103 burglars, 61 kidnappers and arsonists, and 74 people convicted of assaults with intent to rape, rob or murder.
Mr. Robinson said a recent review showed that a majority of those parolees and probationers had been law-abiding in the previous three to five years, but he could not say how much of that time was spent under an agent's supervision. Offenders typically receive supervision for several months before being left unmonitored.
Questions inevitably arise when unsupervised offenders get arrested.
Marquis Dayvon Bryson, a 17-year-old from Baltimore, was on unsupervised probation when police charged him as an adult in the assault-rifle slaying of a 13-year-old boy on Nov. 22, Mr. Sipes said.
Last year, a judge had placed the Bryson youth on two years probation before judgment on an adult handgun charge, Mr. Sipes said.
Though Bryson's probation will not expire until March, probation officials stopped supervising the youth Sept. 3. "He had for all intents and purposes successfully abided by the rules of his probation," Mr. Sipes said.
He did not have details on how agents will supervise the new and different caseloads because updated standards have not been issued yet.
One union activist said she will reserve judgment until she learns the details. "We don't know at this point what the agents will be required to do," said Rosemary Wertz, a labor relations representative at the Maryland Classified Employees Association Inc., which filed a suit over the unsupervised cases.
Agents in Baltimore already have some of the highest caseloads in the state and nation.
With high-risk offenders, Maryland agents supervise 50 people on average -- twice as many as the national average. The average caseload in Maryland for an agent who oversees medium-risk parolees is 150, compared with 78 nationally.
A group of agents is lobbying for at least 100 more agents, smaller caseloads and safer working conditions.