Fear among guards of criticizing operations at the Howard County Detention Center and inconsistently applied policies by management have contributed to low morale at the 45-guard facility, according to a consultant's study released yesterday.

The study, ordered by County Executive Elizabeth Bobo last winter in response to complaints by guards that an atmosphere of favoritism and racism pervaded staff relations at the 150-bed jail, found that many guards felt estranged from their superiors because the guards believed their ideas for improvements were ignored.

"Since they perceive that any critique they may offer . . . is frowned upon, these officers feel that they have little recourse other than to complain among themselves about the shortcomings of the facility, something they do regularly," wrote management consultant Craig W. Wasserman, author of the study. "The present atmosphere results in the festering of minor misunderstandings that could otherwise be easily resolved."

The report did not address specific issues of favoritism or racism.

Wasserman, who based his study on interviews with 38 guards last month, said some guards' mistrust of their superiors had a negative effect on the way they got along with each other. He mentioned in particular the practice by some guards of writing uncomplimentary reports about their colleagues rather than voicing their concerns directly.

Although Wasserman said his overriding impression was that the jail "is working," he said without giving specific examples that he found wide variations in operating procedures from shift to shift and inconsistencies in the way supervisors responded to incidents involving inmates.

Bobo said she generally was pleased with the report and already had ordered Corrections Director Gerald McClellan to implement several of its recommendations.

McClellan said yesterday, for example, that he had begun meeting with his staff more often and instituted a special training program for the jail's six sergeants. In addition, he said he plans to establish a committee to study staffing patterns and work schedules, areas that previously have been a source of contention. He added that beginning next month he would increase the training period for new guards.

Anthony Morris, a guard at the detention center for seven years and president of the union that represents the guards, responded to the changes somewhat cautiously.

"I'd like to be optimistic and I'd like to think that all these changes are going to add up to something, but I have my doubts," Morris said. "Unfortunately, the public still feels that we're still just a bunch of Cro-Magnon men in there to keep the rest of the monkeys in line."