SURELY MARLAND GOV. Harry R. Hughes expected controversy when he selected Gordon C. Kamka to be the state's new corrections commissioner -- Mr. Kamka is not your run-of-the-mill, build-more-cells prisons chief. And the governor has gotten it. Mr. Kamka has dared to suggest that Maryland should consider imprisoning fewer people rather than constructing more prisons. And a lot of lawmakers in Annapolis -- a ware that there is precious little political milegae in that view -- seized upon the occasion of Mr. Kamka's nomination to exaggerate and assial his sensible and forthright position.

Some have made it appear -- incorrectly -- that Mr. Kamka is advocating the indiscriminate release of criminals, whether known to be dangerous or not. A hearing counducted by the Senate Exe utive Nominations Committee gave instant, kunanimous approval to six other cabinet appointees last week, and then delayed a vote on Mr. Kamka until yesterday, when the nomination was approved, 14 to 3. At that hearing Sen. Edward P. Thomas (R-Frederick) ominously concluded that Mr. Kamka's philosophy "should be popular with the prison population," adding, " but how do you think it will sit with the the law-abiding citizens?"

Several senators took the occasion a little more seriously. Mr. Kamka, they noted, is procceeding from an almost unassailable premise: Maryland's presnet prison policy -- which has resulted in a large increase in the number of inmates, with no decrease in the number of repeat offenders -- has been a failure. He is suggesting that many prisoners deemed not dangerous and serving relatively short sentences should be treated in other ways: with work-release rograms, paroles, placement in small facilites and other arrangements. And he is arguing that huge warehouse-style prisons may actually aggravate the crime problem because inmates return to the streets more embittered and threateing than when they left. And Mr. Kamka has ot ruled out the need for some new medium-security institution. He is not unaware that the courts have found the overcrowding in Maryland prisons to be cruel and unusual punishment. He is merely trying to be a little more imaginative than his critics about how to do something about the unacceptable prison conditions.

The chief judge of Maryland's highest court, Robert C. Murphy, has suggested thatsome of "what is being proposed may be an Alice-in-Wonderland, pie-in-the-sky solution" to prison overcrowding. But what is so "pie-in-the-sky" about suggesting a carful look at incarceration policies before blindly building another big prison? That's what Mr. Kamka is suggesting and that, presumably, is one of the reasons that Gov. Hughes selected him. There was no point in dragging this out in the first place; and now the state senate should approve the nomination and judge Mr. Kamka by the results.