The new superintendent of a regional jail in Manassas posed as a murderer in a Pennsylvania prison soon after he was appointed its warden in 1981. Eugene A. Scroggy's objective then was to see first hand how his prisoners were being treated.
In his new $32,000-a-year Virginia job, Scroggy replaces a man who resigned under pressure after he was accused of helping a reporter get inside a state prison masquerading as one of his deputies.
Members of the Prince William County-Manassas Adult Correctional Center's Regional Jail Board, who hired Scroggy in May, say his subterfuge in Pennsylvania was far different from the actions of William Britton, who resigned in February.
"Scroggy acted in the interests of the jail--he was trying to improve the jail system," said Prince William County Attorney John Foote, former chairman of the jail board. "I would not say Britton acted with the interests of the jail in mind."
Other jail board members agreed in separate interviews, saying they are happy with the new superintendent. Some called him "our Robert Redford," a reference to the movie "Brubaker" in which the actor portrayed a warden who entered his own prison.
They remain reticent to discuss Britton. The board members made a pact not to discuss why Britton resigned in return for his promise not to sue the board, Foote said.
Felony charges of conspiring to forge public documents against Britton and another jail deputy were dismissed by a judge in Southside Virginia.
The reporter, Dave Roman of the daily Potomac News in Woodbridge, who went to the prison to interview a death-row inmate, was convicted of impersonating an officer. He was fined $500 plus court costs and given a suspended six-month sentence for the misdemeanor, which he is appealing.
Britton's resignation was one of a series of turnovers in the top administration of the jail, which was opened 15 months ago by Prince William County and Manassas but has been at its capacity of 180 inmates almost daily since then. Nine of the jail board's original 10 members have resigned, most in the past year.
Acting jail board Chairman Chesley M. Moyer, Manassas city manager and the one remaining member of the board, said all eight members appointed by Prince William supervisors were asked to resign by the supervisors, and Manassas Mayor Harry Parrish, one of the city's two members, resigned to run for the state House of Delegates.
Moyer said Prince William supervisors had initially appointed county employes to the board when it was created three years ago, before the new $5.7 million jail was completed. The supervisors asked them to step down this year in favor of private citizens.
Foote, one of the county workers who left the board, said the Prince William representatives knew from the start the county would ask them to resign after the jail was built.
Not all of the old board members agree that the resignations were well advised. "I would say all of this has affected the morale of the jail workers," said former jail board chairman William Hamblen, an assistant commonwealth's attorney. "It's difficult when the people at the top keep changing."
The current jail board members say they are working well together. Last week, they met with county officials to hammer out lines of responsibilities, which some jail workers said were confusing.
The board members say they are looking to Scroggy to improve jail worker morale taxed by turnover and confusion at the top.
They were seeking a good administrator with compassion toward prisoners when they hired Scroggy, they said.
Scroggy, a Quaker from Ohio, is a former marine who has worked with prisoners his entire adult life because he has been taught "to be a leader and lead, to help my fellow man."
Scroggy, with the consent of his superiors, entered the Dauphin County Prison in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1981 disguised as a convicted murderer from New Hampshire with two hacksaws hidden in the soles of his sneakers. He said he was appalled by the way he was treated.
"I wasn't pleased with the disrespect," he said from his Prince William jail office last week. "They had me sleep on a cot with no mattress, not even sheets."
Scroggy said he turned that prison around in two years, then resigned because he was fed up with Harrisburg politics. "Things like a politician calling me up and insisting I get a son out of jail," he said last week. "I don't work that way. I'm completely above board."
Members of the Dauphin County Prison Board in Harrisburg agreed that politics did figure in his departure. They also said in telephone interviews Scroggy was asked to resign this spring because tension among prisoners and prison workers became unmanageable.
"This is a difficult prison, and he did a fine job," board member Larry T. Hochendoner said last week. "But he had weaknesses. He didn't know how to delegate authority and didn't understand the need to involve other people in policy-making decisions. He alienated the staff, and they did not support him."
Board members said Scroggy was surprised and hurt in April when he was told during a closed-door meeting to resign.
Scroggy said he told Prince William jail board members during his job interview that he disliked politics and wanted the jail to be unhindered by political considerations.
If the Prince William jail board is enthusiastic about Scroggy, he is equally enthusiastic about the new jail. It is a model facility, he said. Each prisoner has an individual cell and every group of four cells has a separate day room where meals are served by the prison staff.
"Go ahead and call it a Holiday Inn," Scroggy said. "But if I could have built my own jail, this would be it. Prisoners are human here."
Most inmates in the jail are waiting for their trials and only a handful are convicted criminals actually serving time, say jail board members. Fifteen percent are women, and most of the men are 18 to 25 years old.
Scroggy said he hopes to have the Prince William jail accredited by the American Correctional Association and have the jail's 24-hour medical unit accredited by the American Medical Association.
Former and current jail board members said they expect Scroggy will take firm charge of his new jail. "He is not a shrinking violet," Hamblen said.