Twenty-six state prisoners participated in a work-release program were indicted on 61 charges today, including murder, rape, armed robbery and narcotics violations allegedly committed while they were on release in Baltimore.
The indications appeared likely to have far-reaching implications for Gov. Harry Hughes' corrections policies and its administrators, who already were under attack in the state legislature in session here.
The governor ordered a state police investigation. State Corrections Chief Gordon Kamka suspended the release program from the Brockbridge Correctional Camp in Jessup, Md., where the prisoners are inmates.
The inmates' alleged crimes, committed while they were supposed to be attending classes at state colleges in the Baltimore area or working at the state penitentiary in the city, were uncovered by Baltimore police in the last two months. The investigation began Feb. 10 after one of the inmates allegedly murdered another after being dropped off in downtown Baltimore.
Police spokesman Dennis Hill said investigators "could find little evidence that correctional personnel were exercising supervision of those in their charge. "We don't know that parents knew their children were attending college with convicted murderers and rapists. And we ask: 'Is anybody in charge?'"
The criticism was echoed tonight by state legislators here. "It's one of the most frightening and horrible things I've ever heard," said Senate Majority Leader Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore). Other legislators, who long have criticized the liberal work-release policy Hughes initiated to relieve severe overcrowding problems in state prisons, declared that the incident would provide the momentum for legislative approval of new prison construction and tougher classification standards.
As police were arresting indicted prisoners tonight, Corrections Commissioner Edwin R. Goodlander disclosed that he had ordered a halt last fall to a surveilance program undertaken by his own department of the Brockbridge work-release inmates. Goodlander's statement came in response to charges by two state senators that he had been informed of the alleged criminal activity and had taken no action, then had denied in a Senate hearing that he knew of any alleged crimes.
Goodlander denied tonight he had received reports of violations by inmates or had been asked about them in the Senate hearing. Instead, he said, the surveillance by his department had turned up no criminal activity before he stopped it on the grounds that it was improper.
Police said their own investigators trailed the inmates after they were dropped off in Baltimore each morning, and allegedly found that at least four were involved in a drug ring, another had committed a rape and another an armed robbery in which a police officer was assaulted. Still other prisoners were freely leaving their work duties or classes to roam the streets, police said, adding that one had obtained a state driver's license and another had gotten married.
Police had arrested 18 of the inmates by late tonight, while others were being detained at the camp, a minimum security facility housing 811 prisoners, nearly a third of whom are on work-release. Police spokesman Hill said quantities of narcotics believed to be heroin were confiscated during raids on four homes in Baltimore that the inmates allegedly used to operate a narcotics ring.
Senate Minority Leader Edward Mason (R-Cumberland) said he would move Friday to add funds for two new state prisons to the capital budget now being considered by the Senate's budget committee. Already, measures calling for a new 500-bed medium-to-maximum security prison are under consideration by the panel and the House Appropriations Committee. a
"They've been pushing prisoners out through the funnel and its finally cracked," Mason said. "It's a shame but it's not surprising."
Hughes released a statement saying that "if the allegations prove to be true, they would indicate intolerable lapses in supervision, control and security in the work-release programs operated out of the Brockbridge institution. They would indicate the need for swift and far-reaching action." i