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Errors Found in Releases From 2 Md. Prisons

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page B04

Maryland prison officials routinely miscalculated early release dates for inmates at two prisons, resulting in some being released too soon and others being confined too long, according to a state audit released yesterday.

The audit found that the release date was wrong in 22 of 65 randomly selected cases at the prisons, ranging from 112 days early to 24 days late. Given those findings, the Office of Legislative Audits projected that about one-fifth to one-half of the early release dates could have been wrong in 2003 at the two institutions, which the audit did not name.

"I'm speechless," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "This is definitely not rocket science. It's elementary school mathematics."

The audit attributed the errors to incorrect data entered into a state prison computer system. In some cases, inmates were awarded work credits when they were unable to work, the audit said. In other instances, credits were not properly recorded to reflect time served in local jails.

Under Maryland law, inmates can shave days from their sentences for good conduct, doing work, making progress in educational programs and completing special projects.

Officials with the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services did not dispute the audit findings but defended their work.

"We do a very good job considering how complex the abundance of laws have made this area," Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar said in a statement. "In spite of the huge volume and various legal interpretations, we do a great job."

Department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said officials "are committed to working together to make sure release dates are properly calculated."

"Record-keeping is leaps and bounds above what it was even just a few years ago before computers took over," Vernarelli said.

The 22 prisoners with incorrect release dates had served sentences ranging from one year to nearly 25 years, the audit found.

Among the 22 cases, 17 inmates were released too early, and five were released too late.

Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor, said he was most troubled by the cases in which inmates were held longer than they should have been. "It's deplorable for someone to be deprived of their freedom longer than necessary," he said.

Inmates who are released early immediately fall under the supervision of Maryland's Division of Parole and Probation. The audit noted that none of the 22 inmates released early had been arrested between the time of the release and the correct release date.

Public Safety and Correctional Services oversees about 24,000 inmates in more than two dozen institutions, Vernarelli said.

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