Corrections chief plots a plan of attack

Acting head says he will research, write report on system problems

August 25, 2006|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,sun reporter

Maryland's newly appointed corrections chief says he plans to spend the next month assessing how to improve safety and security in the state's violence-ridden prisons and has been promised the resources he needs to address the problem.

John A. Rowley, who took over yesterday as acting head of the Maryland Division of Correction, said he looks forward to the challenges of running the troubled prison system.

The 56-year-old Pennsylvania native replaces Frank C. Sizer Jr., who hired Rowley 14 months ago as warden of a medium-security prison in Jessup and who promoted him last week to serve as one of his top deputies.

Sizer abruptly retired Wednesday, clearing out his office. He had been under fire for a rash of prison violence that included the murders of two correctional officers and three inmates. He said yesterday that he began sending out his resume four months ago because he believed the time had come for him to move on. He said he has an active job prospect in Florida.

Sizer declined to comment on why he decided to move up his retirement to this week. But he was known to be under pressure to leave from the Ehrlich administration, which regarded him as a political liability.

Of Rowley, Sizer said, "He's a good man. He's a correctional professional and he knows the right things that need to be done to advance the agency. Hopefully he will get the support he needs to make the necessary changes."

Rowley has worked for 28 years in corrections, most of it in his native Pennsylvania. He began his career as a correctional officer in 1978 while attending college and rose to the rank of deputy superintendent in Pennsylvania.

He said yesterday that he plans to meet with wardens and staff at prisons around Maryland and will report his findings to Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar. "I will identify what the areas of need are in terms of resources," Rowley said. "The governor has promised to do everything he can to get those resources."

Legislators and union officials welcomed Rowley's appointment but questioned whether the management shakeup goes far enough. Sen. James E. DeGrange, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said he thinks Sizer is being made the "fall guy" for problems that originate higher in the Ehrlich administration. "He's just one person," DeGrange said of Sizer. "It's a bigger problem than that."

A union official said he thinks Saar, Sizer's boss, is to blame for many of the system's problems. "Unless something is done with those at the top, I anticipate very little change," said Ron Bailey, executive director of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 92.

But Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., a Republican who represents parts of Washington and Allegany counties, where many correctional officers live, said replacing Sizer was "definitely a step in the right direction."

Rowley, who holds a bachelor's degree in human resource management, said yesterday he wants to open better lines of communication with prison system staff. He said his experience working in other states gives him a fresh perspective in dealing with Maryland's problems. "Sometimes when you are part of an organization, it's difficult to step back objectively and look at an issue," he said.

Rowley said the "vast majority" of correctional staff in Maryland does a good job but acknowledged some officers are corrupt. He said they will be dealt with as they are found.

Rowley described Sizer as a "professional and a man of integrity" and said they had mutual respect for each other. "I feel very confident stepping in and continuing on the path we've been on," Rowley said.

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