Bill would tighten rules on prison boot camps

February 16, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

State Del. Marsha G. Perry says she was unpleasantly surprised once to find two inmates from Maryland's prison boot camp working in the garage of the House office building in Annapolis, with no correctional officers in sight.

The Crofton Democrat, whose district is being considered for a boot camp, has introduced a bill that would not only require that boot camp inmates be supervised constantly, but would also incorporate into state law which types of prisoner could be allowed in the program.

The bill, which Ms. Perry introduced earlier this month, would require that boot camp inmates be first-time offenders no older than 32, that they be minimum-security prisoners with no history of escape and that they spend at least 90 days in the program.

The boot camp program tries to instill discipline in young offenders through military-style training.

Ms. Perry said she introduced the bill after learning that criteria for selecting boot camp inmates have been relaxed since the concept was introduced in Maryland in 1990.

The original criteria called for only first-time offenders under the age of 26. But in October 1991, she said, the rules were changed to allow boot camps to house prisoners as old as 32, including some who had served previous prison terms.

"I think the public needs to know what the parameters are," Ms. Perry said. If guidelines are loosened, there should be a public hearing and it should be part of the legislative process, she said.

A hearing on House Bill 896 has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 25.

In addition to setting selection criteria, the bill would tighten security for boot camp inmates sent out into the community on work detail, requiring correctional officers to keep such inmates under constant direct visual supervision.

State Division of Correction spokeswoman Maxine Eldridge said boot camp inmates on work duty are supervised by correctional officers. However, they may not be under constant direct visual supervision.

Joseph Harrison, a spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said yesterday the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has not decided its final position on the bill. However, he said the department has some preliminary concerns with the measure.

"The bill would restrict selection to those who are incarcerated for the first time," he said, contrary to current practice. And the bill's provision for direct visual supervision of inmates on work detail would "severely limit, and perhaps eliminate," such details.

What Delegate Perry's bill does not address is where Maryland boot camps should be located.

The state is still studying the idea of moving the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp from Jessup to the Tipton Army Airfield off Route 32, Mr. Harrison said.

Governor Schaefer had suggested in November that the boot camp be moved to Tipton, after the local congressional delegation killed his proposal to move the camp to the north edge of Fort Meade.

Delegate Perry said yesterday, "I keep hearing that that [Tipton boot camp proposal] is a dead issue -- but that's not from the governor's mouth."

The Tipton Army Airfield is scheduled to close by 1995, under the national Base Closure and Realignment Act.

Anne Arundel County, which also would like to take possession of the land, is studying the economic and environmental impacts of using the airfield for civil aviation, said Michael Leahy, the county's land-use coordinator.

The study is expected to be ready this summer, he said.

Mr. Leahy said state officials have not discussed the boot camp proposal with county officials since the day after Mr. Schaefer mentioned the possibility of moving the boot camp to Tipton.

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