Embattled jailer draws on his faith Rollins is sustained at troubled center by his other world

Is pastor of Odenton church

At 47, he looks ahead to retiring, devoting days to spiritual life

August 11, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

James N. "Buck" Rollins makes a career out of locking up the accused and convicted -- but in his off time, the embattled director of the Howard County Detention Center works to set souls free.

Head of a jail sent reeling in the past eight months by the suicide of an inmate and charges of sexual misconduct by officers, he draws strength from his role as pastor of the Living Waters Worship Center in Odenton, a "spirit-filled" nondenominational Christian church.

The tension of playing the role of jailer and minister has the graying, soft-spoken man of 47 looking forward to retirement from the secular so he can dedicate himself to the spiritual.

The apparent contradiction between the two positions has led some to ask why this deeply religious man ever got involved in the field of corrections.

"How can a man of God work in hell?" asked Frederick Jones, a former county jail inmate now in state prison for robbery, reflecting on recent troubles at the 361-bed facility in Jessup.

Rollins acknowledges the difficulty of balancing his two jobs, noting, "They are at two different ends of the spectrum."

But when the tough times roll around -- as inevitably they do at jails -- it is before God that he finds comfort.

"I handle both challenges with much prayer," Rollins said.

The bigger of the two challenges, for now, is running the Howard County Detention Center, where Rollins is undergoing sharp scrutiny.

Any day now, the Howard County Police Department's Internal Affairs Division is expected to release the results of a sexual misconduct investigation involving at least two male officers and a female inmate.

One officer under investigation is on administrative leave with pay.

Rollins' colleagues say he is handling the turmoil at the jail well.

"He's an extraordinarily good, competent correctional official," said Leonard Sipes, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "Buck Rollins' reputation within the criminal justice community is impeccable. He knows his job."

George Gisin, a staff member for Council 67 of the Maryland Public Employees Union, which represents jail officers, agrees. The Howard jail is "like night and day compared to some facilities around the state.

"As best as we can determine, the jail is efficiently operated," he said. "It's clean. It's safe."

But Rollins does have his critics -- mostly officers who work at the jail and ask not to be identified.

They complain of favoritism in hiring and promotion and of a lack of involvement by Rollins with officers. They also say that not enough is done by the administration to control problems in the jail.

To make their point, they cite the highly publicized recent incidents at the jail.

The first was a suicide in December that led to a $3 million federal lawsuit against the jail by the dead inmate's family. A federal judge dismissed the case nearly two weeks ago.

Then inquiries by The Sun revealed that jail Capt. Thomas V. Kimball lacked the state certification necessary to hold his position as a shift commander. Kimball was ordered back to the state's training academy, from which he is expected to graduate this week.

Kimball and Officer Alex H. Jacobs also are the subjects of a criminal complaint by former inmate Michael A. Saukas, who has accused them of beating him while he was handcuffed at the jail. Police are investigating the allegations before the county state's attorney's office decides whether to prosecute, said Les Gross, deputy state's attorney.

Stephen Ingley, executive director of the American Jail Association, a Hagerstown-based organization that provides conferences and training for jail personnel, said such problems are typical. He said there's little an administrator can do to stop such problems from happening in a lockup.

"Nobody wants this kind of thing, especially people who run the jail," said Ingley, who lives in Howard County but does not know Rollins. "It's a very difficult and complicated job."

Ingley said that the way Rollins responded to the incidents -- particularly the most recent allegations of sexual misconduct -- show that he is a competent administrator.

Rollins "did all the right things," Ingley said. "He immediately called the internal affairs. It's not just that problems happen. It's how you respond to it. An administrator can't reasonably be everywhere at the same time."

The Howard jail, a 125,000-square-foot facility, has 118 employees -- 99 of them correctional officers.

Rollins became director in March 1991, after working in the state correctional system for 22 years.

He says he developed an interest in corrections while he was a military police officer working at the stockade with the Army's 1st Infantry Division. In 1969, he began his career as a correctional officer at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, where he later became captain.

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