STAND BY FOR a flash from state prison: six weeks after the mass escape of 30 dangerous criminals from the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, a consultant hired by the state to evaluate the situation has rendered his report, and you will never guess what it says. It says security isn't very good there. Imagine.
The consultant has also concluded that "the task of correcting management deficiencies will take much work and some time." This is wrong. Gov. Harry Hughes and his top corrections authorities have so far been moving swiftly to tighten security at Jessup without getting too tangled in managerial flow charts and job titles.
They have already increased the number of guards for Jessup and other facilities and have had five wardens fired -- including Jessup's. The state commissioner of corrections also is moving to tighten supervision, noting that "from now on, security procedures will be regularly audited from headquarters -- meaning me."
This is the proper response. Once the extra guards are suited up, someone should be making sure that all the men on duty are deployed in a sensible way, which was hardly the case on the night of the escape. It was wrong then to have had one man -- from a force of 50 on duty -- trying to guard a prison section housing 100 inmates. Elementary management also would have detected and corrected machinery such as alarms and electrically operated doors that didn't work. It helps, too, to take regular inventories of weapons and ammunition stored in the guard towers and to check around the dorms and cellblocks once in a while for knives, chains, syringes or iron bars of the sort found after the August escape.
As Gov. Hughes noted yesterday in another statement on the Jessup situation, these fundamental steps are part of a broader corrections policy that attempts to combine tight security for dangerous criminals with an improved screening system for placing and eventually releasing others who have been incarcerated without any assistance in preparing for their return to society. What is important to this effort is not more reports, but the recognition by state legislators of the importance of improving the corrections system and their willingness to work in the next session to help Gov. Hughes in making his changes.