Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert A. Pascal, who intends to make crime and punishment a cornerstone of his campaign against incumbent Democrat Gov. Harry Hughes, today promised that as governor he would put all the state's 11,000 prisoners to work.
Pascal said he would expand a program he initiated as county executive of Anne Arundel County. Although Pascal's program never has involved more than 100 nonviolent offenders at a time, and currently includes about 65 prisoners, he insisted he could find work for the 9,000 prisoners in the state system who are now not working. About 2,000 state inmates are employed.
"When I'm governor, they're all going to work. We had our prisoners build an extension on to the detention center; we've had them farming, planting trees. We'll find work for all of them."
Those that refuse to work, Pascal said, "will have their privileges revoked. After a while, given a choice between sitting in solitary or working, I think they'll work . . . We're spending a fortune to build facilities in this state, and for police. When people break the law they have a debt to society. There's no reason they can't work."
State corrections commissioner John Galley said prisoners who refuse work assignments currently have certain privileges revoked. Galley added that it would be almost impossible to find work for all the state's inmates, even if all of them wanted to work.
A spokesman for Hughes said the corrections system is trying to expand its work program "but in these hard economic times, the governor certainly wouldn't do anything that would take a job away from a law abiding citizen just so he can say a prisoner has been put to work."
Thomas M. Bradley, president of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO, responded, "I don't like the idea, period. We have enough unemployment in this state without prisoners to take away more. I don't like what happened in Anne Arundel. You certainly aren't going to create jobs this way unless you start locking carpenters up and paying them to do work while they're in prison. I don't condone this thing at all."
Pascal today gave a demonstration of his idea, inviting reporters to watch the planting of Christmas trees by county prisoners at a sanitary landfill. The trees, purchased by the county for 47 cents each, were the last of a batch planted during the last two weeks by work crews from the county detention center. Five to eight prisoners worked each day. The program, Pascal said, was proof that prisoners can be put to work on projects that will be constructive for the taxpayers of the state.
"We just have to do it," Pascal said. "Ask these guys working here how they feel about the program. I guarantee you they'd rather be out here working, earning a few bucks than sitting around doing nothing."
The prisoners who work for the county are paid $2 a day and get one day taken off their sentence for each day they work. Andy Carpinski, a probation violator scheduled to be released in five days, said the program was "all right" at the county level but was skeptical about its chances at the state level.
"I think about three-fourths of the guys wouldn't want to work," Carpinski said. "I really didn't want to do it at first myself. I figured why come out and plant a bunch of trees that are probably all going to die anyway? But, now that it's over, I'm glad I did it. I've got a few bucks for walking around when I get out and I'll be out a little sooner."
Informed of Carpinski's skepticism, Pascal shook his head. "If that happens then three-fourths of them will have privileges taken away. We have an 80 percent recidivism rate in this state and that's because a lot of these guys hit the street without a skill. We've got to give them some type of skill. They might not do this kind of work when they get out but at least they're doing something."