Samuel F. Saxton, director of the Montgomery County Detention Center and a tough-talking, ex-Marine major, was appointed yesterday to run Prince George's County's troubled corrections department.
"It is very clear to me there's a lot of work to be done in the department to bring it up to acceptable standards," Saxton said at a press conference called by County Executive Parris Glendening to announce the appointment.
Glendening said Saxton was chosen after a national search based on his "record of accomplishment" and Glendening's confidence that Saxton could "step into an area of controversy and solve it."
Another factor, Glendening said, was his own commitment to have top county personnel "more reflective" of the county's population, which is now 37 percent nonwhite. Saxton is black.
"I do intend to back Sam Saxton entirely," said Glendening, "administratively, financially and politically."
Saxton, 51, succeeds Arnett Gaston, who resigned in March amidst criticism of his administration of the county jail stemming from an escape and attempted escape last summer, and after a Washington Post series last fall detailed numerous sexual assaults among male inmates.
Gaston's management skills were also criticized in an audit by the National Sheriffs' Association, which said the county's correctional facility met only half the association's criteria for a well-run jail.
Saxton said he plans to study the jail's problems and then move swiftly to improve both personnel and policies. "I am by nature very impatient with people who don't do their jobs," he said.
Saxton's appointment must be confirmed by the county council. He will assume the $57,000-a-year post July 16. Before accepting the job, Saxton said, "I prayed on the subject. There is a challenge here."
The new chief's selection came after Glendening rejected several other applicants proposed by a national recruiting firm, which then recruited Saxton. The firm's fee will be as much as $12,000, according to an aide to Glendening.
Before accepting his latest post, Saxton ran the Montgomery County jail for eight years, following a 30-year military career in which he rose from an enlisted man to an officer who commanded several brigs. Montgomery officials credit him with reducing the jail population there from 450 to 389 in the past year by negotiating an agreement with judges not to send long-term criminals to the detention center.
"He is very good from all reports," said Edwin Rovner, aide to the Montgomery county executive. "Guards at the detention center have profound respect for him."
As commander of Camp Pendleton, Calif., in the late 1960s, Saxton cut the number of alleged inmate beatings from 200 a month to six a month. Saxton said it was a "riot-prone place."
One of his duties in the new job will be to oversee design and construction of a new jail outside the county seat of Upper Marlboro, to replace the current, often overcrowded one built in 1977. "Two or three administrations ago, they really didn't do the job, and we're now paying for it," Saxton said.