Inmate freed in error must finish sentence Released too soon: A miscalculation on a state Division of Correction computer sent Regina Primm home months early. When the mistake was discovered, she was forced to return to prison.

April 05, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Getting out of prison early sounds like an inmate's dream come true. But for Regina Primm, it wasn't.

When a state Division of Correction employee told her she would be released Jan. 13, Primm balked. After all, she was serving a three-year sentence that started in November 1994 for theft and violation of probation. Using the maximum credit for good behavior that prisoners are given automatically at the start of their sentences, Primm figured she wasn't due to see the outside for at least another nine months.

Prison officials sent her home anyway. Primm, 28, was reunited with her three children in Aberdeen, was meeting with her parole agent and had started looking for a job.

The prison gods giveth and the prison gods taketh away.

A month later, after officials realized their mistake, she was back in prison. Being readmitted to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women caused her to spend five days in isolation while being processed to return to the inmate population.

"My nerves was upset," Primm said in a telephone interview from the Baltimore Pre-Release Unit for Women, where she was being held late last week. "Once you are released, you think it's over with. Then to have something like this to happen to you. I wanted to be acknowledged so this kind of mistake cannot keep being made."

Art Crawmer, director of classification for the Division of Correction, said that the erroneous release apparently occurred when an employee entered Primm's sentence for a violation of probation into a computer. Her sentence for theft already had been entered. The way in which the second sentence was entered, he said, caused the computer to calculate extra time off for good behavior for at least part of Primm's total sentence.

State law provides for inmates to get automatic time off their sentences for good behavior, depending, in part, on the types of crimes they have committed. They can lose time if they misbehave, and earn more days off each month by performing certain work in institutions. No prisoner is allowed to get more than 20 days a month in total credit.

Commissioner of Correction Richard A. Lanham Sr. said that an employee at the commitment office in the pre-release system's headquarters in Jessup -- where Primm's case would have gone before she was released -- had received a letter of reprimand for the early release. He declined to identify the employee. "What we have here is a simple miscalculation," Mr. Lanham said. "When you deal with the numbers we deal with, there could be human error."

Prison officials said they discovered the error Jan. 26, when Primm's parole agent notified them of it. They sent a memo that day asking employees to review procedures.

Primm said she was not rearrested until Feb. 16. Prison officials could not immediately say when she was rearrested or explain the delay. Neither could they verify or explain Primm's claim that her attempts to set officials straight about her release date went unheeded.

Mr. Crawmer said the division does not keep statistics on how many prisoners mistakenly are released early, but he called it a rare event. He said only 58 workers statewide handle thousands of calculations -- some of them extremely complicated -- involving inmates' sentences each month, though their work is audited regularly. Primm's erroneous release was the first discovered this year, he said.

He pointed out that Primm will be credited for the time she spent out of prison just as if she had been behind bars during that period. Since she was rearrested, Primm has had a parole hearing and is scheduled to be released soon.

Mr. Crawmer said he did not know exactly how long before the expiration of her sentence Primm was released in January.

The miscalculation of "good time" credits had disastrous results for the Division of Correction six years ago.

John Frederick Thanos was mistakenly released from the Eastern Correctional Institution 543 days early in 1990. He went on to kill three teen-agers, and, in 1994, was executed by lethal injection.

In the Thanos case, prison officials ultimately charged that a records clerk at the prison misinterpreted a policy change involving the calculation of credits for inmates with overlapping sentences for different crimes. The records clerk, who was subsequently fired, denied the charges, saying he was made a scapegoat and that the policy was worded badly. Policies for calculating credit against a sentence were changed as a result of the Thanos release, prison officials said. What happened in Primm's case, they said, was different.

"It's not in the Thanos category at all," Mr. Lanham said.

Mr. Lanham and Mr. Crawmer said they hope one day to have a more sophisticated automated system for calculating credit against a sentence, so that if an employee mistakenly entered a sentence twice, the computer would block the calculation of extra credit for good behavior.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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