Prince George's County jail officials, reacting to the 11th mistaken prisoner release since the state-of-the-art detention center opened a year ago, suspended a veteran night shift commander yesterday and started developing procedures they said would prevent a recurrence.
The prisoner, Michael Anthony Brown, was taken into custody at 12:30 a.m. yesterday at a relative's home in the District and brought back to the jail by Prince George's County sheriff's deputies. But the controversy over his release did not end with his return to the County Correctional Center.
Council member Sue V. Mills described the release as "inexcusable" and reminiscent of "Keystone Kops" law enforcement.
"The problem is not the sin. The failure to solve that problem is the sin," said Mills, a leading critic of the jail's administration.
For their part, jail officials suspended Capt. Alvin B. Martin, the night shift commander, with pay but refused to divulge any details of the mistaken release pending completion of an internal investigation.
Deputy jail administrator Milton M. Crump pledged to finish the investigation by Monday and said that he worked until 3 a.m. yesterday developing an expanded checklist for those responsible for prisoner release.
"Whatever needs to be done will be done," said Crump, who recently retired from the county police force to take a high-level job at the troubled jail. "I don't want to have any escapes or erroneous releases."
The $43 million jail has generated almost continuous controversy since it was opened nearly a year ago outside Upper Marlboro. Escapes and mistaken releases, most blamed on human error, have plagued the jail. Late last year a consultant's study suggested that 40 more guards be hired to improve security.
Of the 11 prisoners mistakenly released, 10 are back in custody. The other has been located in New Jersey, but county officials did not know yesterday if he had been apprehended.
Brown, 34, the latest mistakenly released prisoner, is a convicted rapist who was awaiting sentencing in an unrelated child abuse case. Officials mistook him for Michael Levon Brown, also 34, who had been ordered released from a petty theft charge.
Under jail procedures, prisoners scheduled for release are escorted to a processing area where their papers are reviewed and their names run through a computer for outstanding warrants. They then change into their street clothes, surrender their jail garb and enter a "release corridor" where their papers are reviewed once more by ranking officers, including the shift supervisor.
Finally, the inmate undergoes a final fingerprint check and is released.
Spokeswoman Christy Merenda said "there have been problems" with the operation of the fingerprint machine. "The vendor has been in here several times for repairs and training" of jail personnel. "We think it is a user problem."
Tim Ayers, a spokesman for County Executive Parris Glendening, said there were "a number of other checks that were not followed." He declined to elaborate for fear, he said, of jeopardizing the investigation.
Law enforcement sources close to the jail also raised questions about the correctional employee who gave Brown his clothes instead of those belonging to the other Brown who was supposedly being released.
Merenda said the matter of the clothes was "part of the internal investigation. It will all come out in the wash."
Capt. Martin, who sources said has more than 15 years' service in the county jail, confirmed his suspension but declined further comment.
Corrections Director Samuel F. Saxton is on leave after being hospitalized for five days last month after complaining of chest and leg pains and high blood pressure, according to Merenda.