Maryland Corrections Commissioner Edwin R. Goodlander yesterday fired five top officials of the state prison system because of what he called "inadequate leadership."
Among those ousted were the warden and deputy warden of the Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup, the site of the second largest jailbreak in state history last month.
Goodlander told a press conference the firings were the result of a "six-month-long close analysis" of the correction system and were not prompted by publicity surrounding the mass escape at Jessup and recent escapes and violence at other prisons.
He blamed the veteran wardens he dismissed for poor administration and said he had replaced them with a "can-do team" capable of attacking the system's problems and implementing Goodlander's philosophies.
Goodlander is perceived as having a liberal corrections philosophy of "deinstitutionalizing" convicts by shifting them from large prisons to smaller, more vocationally oriented facilities in local communities. He is an advocate of early parole and swift rehabilitation.
Goodlander's reorganization was questioned yesterday by some legislators and at least one of the fired officials, who maintained that Goodlander had acted only to defuse public criticism and had targeted the veteran wardens because they questioned changes he has made in the system.
Several sources said a number of the fired wardens had been unhappy with Goodlander's policy of paroling more prisoners to minimum-security camps and work release programs, partly to alleviate the overcrowding at most state institutions.
"He had people who tried to talk to him and give him advice,and he didn't take it well," said John R. Byrne, the fired deputy warden at the Maryland House of Correction. "Those people are gone. The ones who didn't say anything to him are the ones he kept, and some of them have been promoted.
In addition to Byrne, Goodlander dismissed Ralph L. Williams, warden of the Maryland House of Correction; Gerald A. Keller, superintendent of the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown; Paul A. Wagley, superintendent of the Maryland Correctional Training Center across the road from the institution in Hagerstown; and Robert W. McColley, superintendent of the state's correctional camps.
The fired administrators all had at least 16 years' experience in the state corrections system, and Keller had worked for the state for 24 years.
Goodlander said most of the men were eligible for retirement and would be permitted to take their pensions.
Goodlander named Paul J. Davis, his former chief of operations, as the new warden of the Jessup House of Correction and James P. Tinney III, a deputy warden at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore, as the new superintendent of the correctional institution in Hagerstown. John P. Galley was named to replace Wageley at the Hagerstown training center, and William E. Lamb will replace McColley as head of the correctional camps.
Goodlander also announced that Mary Lou Bartram, a division chief from inside his department, would take a newly created position as assistant commissioner for programs.
"I did not want our problems to be laid solely on manpower shortages and budget shortages," Goodlander said. I thought the public ought to know that the problems extend deeper . . . to inadequacy in leadership and in management skills."
"I only hope this is not a move to take the heat off Goodlander because of public pressure." said state Sen. Edward Thomas (R-Frederick), a member of the legislature's Joint Committee on Corrections.
"I don't think that chopping heads is going to solve the problems of overcrowding and understaffing in our prisons. The real causes we have to work on are in the budget for corrections."
Thomas said he believed differences of personality and philosophy, rather than questions of competence, had led to at least some of the firings.
Goodlander was defended, however, by Del. Paulene Menes (D-Prince George's), head of the legislative committee, who said the changes were the prerogative of Goodlander and his superior, Gordan C. Kamka, Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Goodlander and Kamka, Menes said, "did not feel that some of the wardens had handled administrative problems well. If they feel a change is necessary for that reason and to carry out their philosophy, they have a right to do it. They are the ones who are accountable for the system."
State officials said yesterday that Goodlander was disturbed by reports that routine procedures and inspections had lapsed at several of the prisons under the old wardens. One state official said it was expected that these lapses would eventually be found to have contributed to the escapes of the past month.
Byrne said, however, that any lapses in security procedures at the House of Correction in Jessup had been caused by budgetary restrictions and that Goodlander had unfairly dismissed Williams and him because of the escape of 30 prisoners last month.
Byrne also said several of the wardens were openly unhappy with Goodlander's policy of moving more prisoners into prerelease minimum security camps.
"They're putting people into those camps that don't belong there as a way of decrowding the prisons," Byrne said, "and they're trying to make it look like no violent persons are being put in even though they are. Some of us thought that it was because of forcing those people into the camps that we were having more escape problems.
The state is under court order to reduce overcrowded conditions in the prisons.
"Goodlander told me that the escapes had nothing to do with the firings," Byrne added. "But I told him he was taxing my intelligence. Of course that's what it was."