Maryland state prisoners have been working in Fairfax County on a federally funded work-release program without the knowledge or approval of officials in the Northern Virginia county.

The presence of the prisoners, which surprised county law officers and "horrified" a county supervisor was uncovered by police as they investigated a series of 25 break-ins at an apartment project in Annandale. The men have been working at the project.

Officials said that investigation is continuing and that there is no evidence that the prisoners were involved.

Corrections officials are not required to inform local authorities when prisoners are working in an area, according to Commonwealth Attorney Robert F. Horan. "They could empty the Maryland penitentiary over here and they don't have to tell us," Horan said.

Although Virginia corrections officers generally notify police when prisoners are in the area, Horan said, no such notification has been given in this case. Although some of the prisoners have been working at the site since September.

Fairfax Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), in whose district the apartment project lies said. "I was just horrified when I learned" about the prisoners. It's a bad situation. The police can't do anything about it."

The prisoners are bused daily from the minimum security corrections facility at Jessup, Md., to the work site , according to Maryland corrections officials and the company employing the prisoners. Capital Building and Remodeling. The prisoners are helping convert the Talltree apartments on Americana Drive in Annandale into condominiums.

Maryland corrections authorities said the prisoners are under the supervision of a company foreman at the work-site.

Bob Bohman, general manager of the Realty Group of Greater Washington, which owns Talltree, said yesterday that one or two "undercover" men dressed as workmen also watch the prisoners.Bohman said he did not know if the undercover men were employed by Capital Improvements.

Jack Jones, president of the firm employing the prisoners, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

County police said they found out about the prisoners when detective-began to investigate a series of 25 burglaries in the Talltree development in January.

The presence of the prisoners, who wear jeans or other work clothes, has upset residents of the community. "I'm really afraid to live here," said some female resident who lives with her teenage son in the complex.

Fairfax County Police Chief Capt. K.H. Downey said yesterday. "We have no proof of who's doing the break-ins." He added that the subdivision had experienced "more than the usual number of break-ins" since the first of the year.

Downey said one of the burglaries generally have occurred between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., on weekdays. The objects stolen have been small, concealable items such as jewelry, he said.

He said the burglaries have not been "your usual day-time burglary," which he defined as robbers coming to a house or apartment in a van and taking large equipment such as stereos.

Downey said one of the homes burglarized was entered through a third-floor balcony, apparently by burglars using a ladder. There were the markings of a ladder on the outside wall, he said.

Kenneth Watts, assistant superintendent of the corrections camp at Jessup, said the men in the work-release program have been carefully screened and are within 10 months of a parole hearing. He said the men have been convicted of various criminal offenses, but declined to specify for which crimes the men now at the site had been convicted.

The men "are constantly watched." Bonham said yesterday. "Their whereabouts are kept track of. These guys are searched in the morning and they're searched at night. . ."

Bonham said there are now six or seven prisoners in the work-release program at Talltree.

According to police, the prisoners are paid $1.75 an hour by Jones. That money is matched with money from a U.S. grant.

Reginald Mills, supervisors of the program at Jessup, said the program is funded by the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), but said he did not know how much money is involved or which local jurisdiction funded the program.