When Larry Sander talks about his job as director of Montgomery County's department of corrections and rehabilitation, he puts the emphasis on "rehabilitation." And if his co-workers teasingly refer to the innovations now being carried out at the county jail-a library, infirmary and classrooms - as "Sander's Hilton," he shrugs off their remarks.
"When you get a man in jail you don't have to beat him, you don't have to starve him, you don't have to sting him up by the thumbs. Just being deprived of his freedom is enough," says the 52-years-old administrator.
He says that instead of worrying about punishing the inmates, "You ask yourself, 'What can I do for this man that will make him better prepared when he gets out?' May be it's education, maybe it's psychological counseling, maybe the guy, if he could read and write, could make it.
"If you take a guy who comes into jail and the reason he's in jail is because he's been robbing people and the reason he's been robbing is because nobody will give him a job because he can't fill out a job application, if you can help that guy to read an write, he might have a shot. He might have a shot at the world," Sander said.
Since becoming the county's first correction director four years ago, Sander says he has sought to change the concept ot the county jail from a warehouse to a place where prisoners can get a chance at a new life.
"He helps people grow," said County Council president John Menke of Sander. Menke also called the corrections department "one of the brightest spots in the county." Council member Jane Ann Moore, who teaches socialogy at Howard University, called Sander a "highly competent administrator" and County Sheriff James Young said Sander is "an efficient gentlemen . . . very conscientious. He runs a good department."
Before Sander was hired, inmates with dental pronlems had a choice of taking aspirin or having their teeth pulled; now they have a full dental program. Before, inmates got their medicine from correctional officials, now there are paramedics. The changes reflect Sander's philosophy that to help inmates, first you must deal with their immediate needs.
Sander also has made counseling available to the inmates, started an educational program where correctional officers and prisoners can take courses together, established an inmate council in which prisoners discuss the jail situation with administrators; instituted grievance procedures with administrators before desciplinary action; and started a work release program in which selected inmates are housed outside of the jail and allowed to hold jobs. Sander said that of 500 inmates who have been through the pre-release program, only 10 per cent have been arrested afterward and none was arrested while participating in the program.
Sander also hired people as community release coordinators. They find jobs and places to stay for inmates who can be paroled. In order to be paroled, the inmates must have both.
According to Sander, the coordinator's functions really belong to the state. "You take a (state) parole agent with 200,300 guys to worry about and he can't. So we do it. We do it to get the guys out on time," he said.
One thing that Sander is adamant about is his idea about who should run prisons. He has about 30 years of experience in prison administration, including some 20 years in Air Force military police, where he ran prisons in Japan and Germany. He also holds a bachelor's degree in correctional administration from American University.
"Detention facilities," said Sander," should be run by professionals, not by sheriff and not by police. That's not their bag. A police officer is taught how to fight crime on the street and things like that but not to run prisons.A sheriff is taught how to guard a courtroom and transport prisoners, but not how to run prisons. I say if you want a will-run institution, put it in the hands of professionals."
His attitude about professionals in prison extends to the guard, whom he prefers to call "correctional officers".
He said, "It used to be if you were a correctional officer all you had to do was security - lock the door, serve food, lock the door . . . That's not my philosophy.
"There is custody and security and there is treatment. Custody and security people have to be 60 per cent security and 40 per cent treatment. That means if you're an officer and you unlock a door and somebody wants to talk to you, you might become a counselor - that's the 40 per cent trearment. The treatment people, they've got to be 60 per cent treatment and 40 per cent custody. They've got to deal with the gun's problems but they can't let all the doors open and let him walk away.
"A correctional officer used to be a guy you'd say to, 'Hey, got a problem, Joe' and he'd say 'Dont't tell me you damn problems. I'm no counselor' and walk away. Hell, that's not the way we operate anymore."
While Sander is noted for his tolerant attitude toward prisoners, he's also known for standing nose-to-nose against state officials when he thinks they're wrong. One particular sore point with him is the fact that because of overcrowding in state prisons, Montgomery County is holding 45 prisoners for the state.
The problem is aggravated by the fact that the county's jail is overcrowded itself - 240 prisoners are housed in a place built to house 164 - and that the state has not reimbursed the county since 1975 for holding the prisoners.
In retaliation, Sander had county corrections officials take 10 state prisoners to a state penitentiary last fall. Then the county officers sped away before the state officials realized they were not supposed to accept the inmates. Now, Sander said, the county may soe in order to get just compensation for holding the state prisoners.
Meanwhile, Sander lives in McLean with his wife Jean, whom he met 33 years ago and married after a three week courtship. One of the few Montgomery County, Sander says he refused to move when he became corrections head because he did not want to leave his house, which he built and designed himself, or subject his daughter and three sons to any more moves. His children now range in age from 19 to 29.
Asked how long he intends to work for the corrections department, Sander said he has no immediate plans to retire. "I want to stay here until I feel I've accomplished everything I can."