The fall guy

August 29, 2006

After complaining loudly about the direction of Maryland prisons, state correctional officers got their pound of flesh. Frank C. Sizer Jr., the state's commissioner of corrections, is leaving his job.

Mr. Sizer, who tried to crack down on contraband and improve prison conditions, announced his retirement last week. But the relentless campaign by prison guards and their unions helped push him out the door. The murders of two correctional officers this year have intensified calls by prison staffers and some legislators for a change at the top.

But Mr. Sizer's leaving won't solve a key prison safety issue - the 317 correctional officer positions that remain vacant. And it won't address the underlying cause of the complaints of the unions and their supporters: the corrections philosophy of Public Safety Secretary Mary Ann Saar, who has rightly recognized that warehousing inmates aggravates security problems inside the system and contributes to public safety concerns on the outside.

A safe prison doesn't turn on one individual. It requires skilled administrators, a trained, committed staff, meaningful reforms and enough resources to support the system. Mr. Sizer's retirement won't change that equation.

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