From behind bars is the MCI-H Weekly News, written...


September 30, 1994

A VOICE from behind bars is the MCI-H Weekly News, written and published by inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. Its July 23 issue raises a question that surely goes against the lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key passions of a crime-obsessed society.

The question is whether convicts with so-called life sentences that actually allow parole after a set number of years of incarceration should be permitted outside prison to work in the Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System.

According to the prison newspaper, 134 lifers last year were denied the opportunity to take on such private-sector jobs as printers, cashiers, telemarketers, waiters, roofers and even, in one case, as "sole trustee to hundreds of keys for a multi-million dollar four-acre factory" because two of their colleagues violated the terms of the program.

One convicted murderer, after spending 10 years on work release, just walked off the job for two weeks of freedom before turning himself in. He committed no crimes during this sojourn on the outside. The other was a far more serious case in which a pre-release prisoner, another murderer, somehow obtained a gun and shot a girlfriend before committing suicide.

The consequent outcry led to the Department of Correction's restriction on other lifers even though they had done nothing wrong. Wrote the author of the news article, Douglas Scott Arey: "Was it wise? Was it right? Was it fair? Was it sound correctional policy?"

Some officials say no. They argue that if they do not have "carrots" to offer prisoners, such as a pre-release program leading to parole, the task of imposing discipline by rewarding good behavior is short-circuited.

This issue is something the next governor should ponder.

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