State prisons chief quits amid criticism

Detractors say he failed to control inmates

August 24, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

The commissioner of the Maryland Division of Correction retired yesterday amid continuing turmoil over the state's troubled prisons and the slayings of two correctional officers by inmates this year.

Frank C. Sizer Jr., 62, delivered his resignation in the form of a two weeks' notice yesterday afternoon to Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar, said Jacqueline Lampell, her spokeswoman.

"He simply told the secretary he was retiring," Lampell said. "I can't comment on her response. I wasn't there."

Although the retirement is effective in two weeks, Sizer cleared out his office yesterday, according to two correctional system sources. The abrupt departure suggested he did not retire voluntarily.

Sizer declined to comment yesterday.

Sizer had come to be regarded as a political liability for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Republican legislators from Western Maryland, where several state prisons are located, called publicly for Sizer's ouster after a correctional officer was killed in January while guarding an inmate at a hospital in Hagerstown. The clamor for Sizer's removal grew after a second correctional officer was stabbed to death in July.

Some correctional officers from Ehrlich political strongholds in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore had said that they would not vote to re-elect him unless he makes top-level changes in prison administration.

Sizer headed the prison system for three years and previously served as warden of the Western Correctional Institution and deputy commissioner of the Division of Correction. He will be replaced on an acting basis by John A. Rowley, assistant commissioner for the eastern region of the division of correction, Lampell said.

Rowley, 52, was hired in June 2005 as warden at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup and previously worked in Pennsylvania's prison system for 25 years. He also was director of a detention center in South Carolina from 2002 to 2005.

Top corrections officials - including Saar and Sizer - came under fire last month after the death of correctional officer David McGuinn, who was stabbed by two prisoners at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.

In January, Jeffery Alan Wroten, a 44-year-old father of five, was shot to death by a prisoner from the Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown who tried to escape from a hospital.

Facing intense criticism after a surge of violence among inmates, Saar held a news conference last month on the eve of an emergency legislative hearing into conditions at the prisons in which she declined to express confidence in Sizer - a signal to many that his job was in jeopardy.

But she amended her statements the next day, telling The Sun, "I consider him a part of our team and have no plans to replace him."

M. Kim Howard, president of the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union, blamed Sizer's departure on politics.

"Sizer is an excellent commissioner," Howard said. "If he has retired, he has been forced to resign by Secretary Saar. They have to put the blame somewhere, and I guess he was the fall guy."

The increasing violence at the prisons came at a time when prison officials were attempting to change a lax culture of enforcement at some facilities - especially at the House of Correction, which had developed a reputation as a prison where inmates were largely in control.

To stem the flow of contraband, including cell phones, tobacco and drugs, administrators recently installed sensitive screening devices that staff and visitors must pass through to enter the House of Correction.

A report on the effects of prison staffing levels on violence presented at the emergency hearing found that inmate assaults on correctional officers rose sharply from 2003 to 2005 - a period in which staffing vacancies rose from 3.5 percent to 9.5

Sun reporter Greg Garland contributed to this article.

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