Jail director has quiet few months Pereira begins her tenure at helm of county facility away from the limelight

December 04, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

The first several weeks of Melanie C. Pereira's tenure as director of the Howard County Detention Center have come and gone without much fanfare.

Everything has been nice and quiet since the first week of October, when she replaced James N. "Buck" Rollins at the 361-bed jail in Jessup, and that's just the way Pereira likes it.

"I was left a good institution to work with," Pereira says. "It was well-run and well-maintained. To look at things after only a month on the job and come up with a list of things that need to be changed just isn't something that I'm going to do."

Pereira, 42, may have a difficult time distancing herself from part of the legacy of Rollins' administration, which endured two years of controversy over an inmate suicide, the firing of two officers for having sex with inmates and allegations of brutality.

The jail officers were acquitted in two brutality cases and one case was dropped by prosecutors. But the negative publicity surrounding the county jail put it -- and its director -- under scrutiny, as well.

Rollins is now a full-time minister at a Gambrills church, where he has been co-pastor for almost three years.

"This is a new place for me, with new people to get to know," Pereira says. "But being jail director is a wonderful opportunity to make an impact."

The walls of Pereira's small, tidy office at the jail are covered with awards and plaques that attest to her reputation as a respected but tough administrator.

The key to her success in the corrections field, Pereira says, has been her hands-on approach.

"When you've been in the corrections profession for as long as I have, you learn that that's a good thing to be," she says. "I'm an easy person to work for as long as you do what you're supposed to do. And that's never really a problem."

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker hired Pereira over five unidentified candidates after Rollins announced his decision to retire in August.

She is the first woman in Maryland to be director of a county jail.

Although her original goal was to become a police officer, Pereira began her career at age 20 as a corrections officer at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women to pay her way through the University of Baltimore, where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees.

She worked her way through positions as a hearing officer, senior classifications counselor, corrections specialist and correctional officer at other Maryland institutions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Before becoming jail director in Howard, Pereira had been the state's deputy corrections commissioner since 1993. She also was assistant warden and warden of the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women from 1987 to 1991.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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