More than 50 of Maryland's most violent felons have been transferred to high-medium security prisons in the state's westernmost counties after a security audit of the state's nearly 2,000 inmates serving life sentences determined they might be escape risks, correction officials confirmed yesterday.

Fifty-two inmates were transferred late last week and 21 other inmates had stricter limits placed on their prison movement, officials said. The changes are the latest reforms stemming from a high-profile prison escape in Jessup last May.

"These moves ensure tighter security," William Sondervan, commissioner of the state Division of Correction, said in a statement released yesterday.

Officials said the security audit was initiated immediately after Byron L. Smoot, a convicted armed robber, and Gregory L. Lawrence, a convicted murderer, escaped from the medium-security prison May 18.

It involved a system-wide review of the backgrounds and prison disciplinary records of all those serving life sentences. Anyone who had tried to escape before, had spotty attendance records in prison jobs, or had escape-like incidents before prison--such as being AWOL in the military--were labeled escape risks. Others were deemed as possible escape risks because of suspicious behavior, such as selling prison possessions or drafting diagrams of prison layouts, officials said.

Corrections officials said there were no incidents during the transfer. Most of the inmates were sent to the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown or the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, two relatively new high-medium security prisons with some of the most up-to-date security measures in the state prison system.

The inmates who were thought to be the greatest security risks were sent to the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, a maximum-security prison on the same campus as the medium-level facility from which Smoot and Lawrence escaped. Both were recaptured within days.

A review of Lawrence's prison history found that he had attempted to escape in 1991 from the Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security facility that provides physical and mental therapy to inmates, according to corrections officials. He was caught trying to cut the fences there and was sent for four years to Supermax in Baltimore, the system's most secure prison, where inmates are confined to their cells 23 hours a day.

He was eventually sent to the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup, a medium-security prison, where he was allowed limited movement in the prison yard.