Officials transfer prison escapee Only inmate to flee Supermax earned stay in lower security jail PTC

March 25, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The only inmate ever to escape from the state's "Supermax" prison has been transferred to lesser security, after officials said he showed he was complying with the prison's behavior modification program.

Harold Benjamin Dean, who is serving a sentence of life plus 105 years for a 1981 robbery and murder and for escape, was transferred Jan. 24 to the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup, a maximum-security prison.

Dean, 45, escaped Nov. 30, 1991, from the East Baltimore prison, formally called the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, by squeezing through an 8-inch by 22-inch cell window, then jumping onto the roof. He was arrested 10 months later in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, where he had been working in a gas station under the assumed name of Edward R. Ratliff.

Dean also escaped from the Maryland Penitentiary in 1985, using a rope of knotted bedsheets.

Officials said yesterday that Dean's age, the length of time he spent in Supermax and security enhancements at the Jessup prison, which holds most of the state's lifers, made them confident Dean could be moved.

"He has been back five years and he's in his 40s now," said Richard A. Lanham Sr., who as commissioner of the Division of Correction approved the transfer. "He adhered to the program. Therefore, he deserved a review and a recommendation."

Said Jack Kavanagh, acting assistant warden of the prison: "Harold told me he's not into climbing walls anymore."

Nancy Moran, a Baltimore woman who serves as trouble-shooter for many inmates and corresponds with Dean, said the convict is hobbled by a foot injured in his escape from the penitentiary. "I think he's mellowed a great bit," she said. "He's a lot older and wiser."

Dean's transfer came just before the prison put into effect new rules that set out more specific time frames for inmates to be held.

'Worst of the worst'

The $21 million prison opened in 1989 for the "worst of the worst" prisoners in the state system. Inmates spend 22 to 24 hours a day alone in their 65-square-foot cells, exercising only in small recreation areas under heavy guard. The goal was to hold prisoners at Supermax only until their behavior improved enough to return them to other prisons.

In a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening last year, Deval Patrick, then President Clinton's assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote that Supermax inmates were caught in a "Catch-22 situation," because policies for transfer out were not specific enough and led some to be held indefinitely even when they had obeyed prison rules for years.

Procedures revamped

Kavanagh described the guidelines as a "tightening up" of review procedures already in place, and said they would give inmates incentive to behave. "You take the anxiety level down when you can give them some time frames to look at," he said.

The new procedures, developed to address concerns raised by a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the prison, call for inmates who are at Supermax because they have escaped from prison to leave after two to three years. If their behavior has been exemplary, they may go to another prison in half that time.

According to the guidelines, an inmate who kills an officer or another prisoner can expect to spend from five to six years in Supermax, while someone who's accumulated a year's worth of segregation time can expect to stay for two to four months after his segregation is over.

The guidelines provide for unusual circumstances, allowing case managers to recommend that inmates be kept for shorter or longer periods for compelling reasons, Kavanagh said. Certain prisoners -- those who are a particular threat to security -- may be kept as long as Lanham or his designee finds it appropriate.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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