State prisons chief resigns Robinson to take consulting position at Lockheed Martin

Quits 'thankless job'

Baltimore native held corrections post under two governors

September 27, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin and Thomas W. Waldron | Kate Shatzkin and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Maryland's top prison official has told Gov. Parris N. Glendening that he intends to retire after 10 years on the job to take a consulting job with Lockheed Martin Corp.

Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Bishop L. Robinson, 70, confirmed yesterday that he plans to submit his resignation papers next week -- about four months after the defense industry giant offered him the job. His departure is expected in November.

Robinson, an enduring Cabinet star whose touch with legislators was considered magical, introduced computerization to a fragmented state criminal justice system.

His efforts culminated in the opening two years ago of Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center, a $56 million facility called the first of its kind in the country to consolidate police booking, bail review, fingerprinting and incarceration through the use of high technology.

"I guess I've been wedded to this job, that's what it amounts to," Robinson said last night, describing why it had taken him so long to decide to leave his $124,413-a-year job. "I've been wedded to public safety and corrections. And we've made a lot of progress here."

John R. Stierhoff, the Annapolis lobbyist for Lockheed, said Robinson "has an extensive knowledge of public safety issues. We're excited to bring someone on board with his stature."

Robinson will be charged with developing business for New Jersey-based Lockheed MartinIMS, which has a wide variety of operations across the nation, ranging from child-support collections to automated "drive-by" truck weighing systems.

"His role will be limited only by his imagination and the imagination of the company," Stierhoff said.

Glendening praised his prisons chief last night.

"Bishop Robinson has an outstanding national reputation in the area of law enforcement and corrections," Glendening said in a statement.

"While we are disappointed to see him leave our administration, we are happy for Bishop and his family. This is an excellent opportunity, and we wish him well."

Robinson, Baltimore's police commissioner from 1984 to 1987, has flirted with defection to the private sector before, announcing four years ago that he was leaving to direct security for the Johns Hopkins Hospital. A month later, he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain -- and had a change of heart.

This time, the secretary said, he is really leaving what he calls a "thankless, winless job," though he stressed that he has no differences with the governor, whom he praised.

"It's definite," Robinson said. "I thought now is the time. Either I leave now, or never."

He said he wanted to thank his staff of 10,500, many of whom "risk their lives on a daily basis in some of the most dangerous and demanding jobs in the criminal justice system."

A dapper figure known as "The Archbishop" for the sermon-like quality of his testimony at legislative hearings, Robinson has used his last years in office to argue against his own business. Admitting he was "part of the problem" of the narrow approaches to crime of the past, he has lobbied legislators to pass a settlement that infused money into the Baltimore city schools -- something he hoped would prevent children from turning into criminals.

Born in Baltimore, where he grew up in the McCulloh Homes on the west side of the city, Robinson has been a front-line witness to the spiraling of crime and law enforcement's failure to keep up.

Fending off retirement runs in the family. His late father, John, insisted on cleaning telephone booths for a living at age 85.

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who appointed Robinson police commissioner when he was mayor of Baltimore, brought his protege to Annapolis in 1987 as the state's corrections chief for his two terms in office.

Glendening asked Robinson to stay on for a third round -- the only state public safety chief to do so -- after becoming governor in 1995.

Their criminal justice philosophies matched -- reserve scarce prison beds for violent offenders, while developing less expensive alternatives to supervise nonviolent criminals while preserving public safety.

To that end, the prisons' chief developed the Correctional Options Program, a collection of alternatives lauded by the U.S. Department of Justice -- from boot camp to home detention -- that cost the state far less than incarceration. Recent studies have shown that components of the program, including drug treatment court and boot camp, make a real difference in recidivism.

Robinson's tenure, while remarkably free of the usual political crises, has not been without blemishes. He has had to wrestle with the fallout of overcrowded prisons -- including a melee several months ago at a maximum-security prison that seriously injured four correctional officers -- and complaints from officers that they were chronically understaffed.

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