PRINCESS ANNE, MD., AUG. 12 -- The first 50 prisoners arrived today at the Eastern Correctional Institution here, Maryland's newest prison facility, in what authorities hope will be a one-two punch to relieve inmate crowding elsewhere and spark the economy of this depressed Eastern Shore community.

Bound in leg irons and handcuffs, the prisoners arrived in a bus at 2:57 p.m. from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup -- the vanguard of more than 1,700 inmates scheduled to be transferred here from several other state prison facilities during the next nine months.

The $103 million medium-security prison, in the midst of the flat pine-scrub country of the lower Eastern Shore, is about half built, and consists of a series of low-lying beige buildings surrounded by a double chain-link fence topped with razor wire. About four miles south of Princess Anne, in Somerset County, it was built in part to meet court-ordered relief from crowding at other facilities in the state's 13,000-inmate system.

But local officials hope it also will provide a welcome infusion of economic vitality here and become the largest single employer in one of Maryland's poorest counties. Once fully operating, the prison is expected to generate 720 jobs, a $15.5 million payroll and a $21 million annual budget and help cut unemployment -- which seasonally runs as high as 15 to 20 percent.

Prisons, and where to put them, are a continuing problem across the country and particularly in the Washington area. The District's Lorton Reformatory has been plagued with crowding problems for years at its Central and Occoquan facilities, both of which are in southern Fairfax County. Despite unemployment rates that continually run about double those in the surrounding suburbs, District residents regularly oppose efforts to build prisons in their neighborhoods.

In contrast, community leaders in Buchanan County, Va., worked hard to get a new prison there. The facility, expected to employ 350 people, will be built during the next three years in the Southwest Virginia county where as much as one-third of the labor force is out of work.

Similarly, officials in Somerset, a county of 19,000, are enthusiastic about ECI, as they call the Eastern Correctional Institution.

"I'm for it. It's creating jobs," said Somerset County Commission President Phillip L. Gerald.

Some local residents agreed. "If anything, it'll bring more people into the county," said Norman Abbey, a mechanic at Delmarva Marine, a boat sales and repair shop two miles from the prison. "Some of the new employes have already bought boats here."

Not only that, said prison warden Wayne B. Winebrenner, but the facility itself is generating new business. He cited state government contracts to buy prison food from the Cysco Food plant in the county.

But not everyone is happy. Some residents near the sprawling 600-acre prison say they are fearful of escapes and rising crime.

Others say Somerset County has such limited services and facilities that the prison will have to look beyond the county to more populous centers such as Salisbury and Cambridge for specialized services, such as computer maintenance and electrical contracting.

"There may be an increase in jobs and salaries," says Richard Crumbacker, editor of the weekly Somerset Herald, "but there's no place to spend it."

He predicts many of the prison's new employes will end up "living and spending their money in Salisbury," 15 miles north in Wicomico County.

Even families visiting prisoners will go to Salisbury, he said, because of insufficient motels and restaurants in Princess Anne. "Salisbury is going to be the way station {to the prison}, not Princess Anne," Crumbacker said.

Somerset County Administrator Charles E. Massey said there was widespread resistance to the prison when it was proposed four years ago.

"Nobody wants a prison or a landfill in their back yard," he said. But with the prospect of new jobs and rejuvenation of the local economy, he said, much of the resistance disappeared. "People could see the advantages," he said.

Whereas state prison authorities have transferred several dozen seasoned guards from other institutions, the new prison nevertheless has hired more than half of its staff locally, from guards to secretaries, Massey said.

The first batch of 50 prisoners are considered medium-security inmates serving five- to 10-year sentences with at least one year to go, said prison spokeswoman Beverly Marable.

They are doing time for "burglary, robbery, manslaughter, murder, that kind of thing," she said.