FOR ALL THE legislative harrumphing in Annapolis about the inability of Gov. Harry Hughes to lead, compromises or deal, he seems to be doing quite well in meeting the lawmakers' demands. In addition to falling on a happy solution to transit needs -- in this region, make that read Metro -- Gov. Hughes has been working to smooth differences over state education financing. By far the most nimble compromising, though, has come this week, in a serious attempt to reach agreement on immediate prisons policy in the state.

The question now is whether the legislators will respond to the governor's concessions by supporting his other proposals to move away from a simplistic and unsuccessful lock-'em-all-up-in-big-prisons approach to corrections. What Gov. Hughes had done is yield to legislative pressures with a proposal to construct prison facilities to accommodate 500 inmates, in the neighborhood of the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. This is a considerable switch from his earlier stand against any new prisons and should be accepted as a good-faith bid by the governor for support of his other prison-related proposals -- for a network of community adult rehabilitation centers and for more money in the corrections budget.

Gov. Hughes says he had no promise for such support -- but he deserves it. Already, toomany lawmakers have field day exaggerating the corrections policies advocated by Mr. Hughes and his corrections chief, Gordon C. Kamka; they would have people believe that the Hughes/Kamka school of penology supports the indiscriminate release of prisoners whether dangerous or not. That is not just wrong, it's ridiculously wrong. The administrtion's idea is to establish a number of options besides big prisons, and to reduce the number of inmates crammed into large institutions. Thoughtful members of the legislature understand this perfectly sensible objective; and now that Gov. Hughes has shown that he is not insensitive to legislative concerns, the lawmakers owe him as well their constitutents a vote of support for a balanced and improved prisons policy.