Prisoners released too soon Administrative snafu: New prisons chief must make sure problem is solved.

November 17, 1997

THREE TIMES IN 12 DAYS, inmates were freed from the state prison system when they should have remained locked up. That such a mistake could occur once is enough to shake public confidence in the government's ability to protect citizens. But three times in less than a month suggests the need for more something more than the temporary suspension of the prison officials responsible for releasing the inmates prematurely.

In the latest incident, a telephone call from a scared witness let police know murder suspect Larry George "High Top" Owens was on the street when he should have been in a cell awaiting trial. "'High Top' is in jail," police tried to reassure the caller. "No, High Top is sitting at Quantico and Pimlico," came the reply.

Indeed, Owens was released from the Maryland Penitentiary on Sept. 30 for time served on a drug conviction when he was supposed to be held for a murder trial. On Oct. 7, Bradrick Thomas Greene was released from the Central Booking and Intake Center when he was supposed to finish serving a Baltimore County burglary sentence. On Oct. 11, Rickey F. Alston was released from the penitentiary after serving a drug-conviction term, but he had not finished a separate sentence for robbery.

The same senior case manager who received a letter of reprimand for the premature release of Alston was suspended for five days for letting Owens go too soon. A preliminary investigation indicated the case manager failed to fully review Owens' records. But new prison system chief, Stuart O. Simms, sworn in on Wednesday, promises a more thorough examination of what went wrong.

Prison officials have concluded no one was bribed to free the inmates early. All three turned themselves in. But the possibility that workloads or inadequate procedures led to case management mistakes has to be explored. Mr. Simms must find out whether this has occurred before and what steps to take beyond disciplinary action to ensure the problem is not repeated.

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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