Gerald Day is doing time here for first degree murder, but that never stopped him from going home on weekends. Time after time prison officials cleared his trips, and Day kept coming back as promised.

Then last month Day found out he could not go home again -- not because he was being punished but because of a rule change: Maryland prisoners serving long sentences for violent crimes will not be allowed to walk the streets unsupervised anyone. Day will be allowed to keep his other privilege -- an outside job on weekdays -- put for newcomers to Maryland prisons the rule will not be bent.

The rules are among dozens issued in the last few weeks by the new managers of the state's crowded and troubled prisons. But they are symbolic of how the system has changed in the 90 days since two young, controversial reformers -- Public Safety Secretary Gordon Kamka and Corrections Commissioner Edwin Goodlander -- were forced to resign in the wake of charges that 27 inmates from work-release details had committed murder, rape, robbery and other crimes while they were supposed to be at work or in college classes.

In three months, it has changed from a system run by self-styled reformers to one run by managers who state that reform is not a top priority. Kamka's successor, Thomas W. Schmidt, recently outlined his priorities as public safety first, a balanced budget second and improved programs for prisoners third.

"That's a big change in itself," said Merle Goldman, Kamka's legislative aide who now works for Schmidt. "Gordon would go to the legislature and talk about programs, not about his commitment to public safety. The commitment may or may not have been there, but it wasn't his style to put it in terms of priorities."

The change is most evident in the new teams's approach to the prisons' biggest problem -- overcrowding. Maryland now has more than 8,000 people jammed into prisons built for 6,500; its three major facilities are under court orders to end crowding, and that state was recently cited for contempt of court for failing to meet court-ordered deadlines. The rulings are not on appeal.

Kamka tackled the problem by moving more inmates from the jammed maximum- and medium-security prisons into minimum-security centers and community programs. He argued that Maryland housed too many inmates in large prisons and too few in small centers, where they could best make the transition to the outside world.

The new managers, by contrast, talk of the need for more large prisons. And in spite of the court orders, they have adopted an array of policies designed to brake the flow of prisoners into lower security settings -- policies expected to intensify crowding in the large prisons, at least in the short run.

"You have to bite the bullet somewhere," said Carl Banaszewski, a management analyst on loan to the prison system from the state budget department. "You either have to say you're going to protect public safety, and swallow the backup of prisoners, or you're going to solve overcrowding and move people into the community who aren't ready for it."

Inmate Gerald Day is one of those caught between the old and new policies.

A 53-year-old "lifer" who has served 32 years in Maryland prisons, Day lives here in the 200-man Jessup Pre-Release Unit, one of the most open facilities in the system. Under the old rules, he was free to go to work as a janitor at a nearby I-95 rest stop during the week, and to make unchaperoned trips on weekends to see his children and grandchildren through the "family leave" program.

Although a grandfather clause allows Day to stay at the prerelease center here and to keep his janitorial job unless he breaks prison rules, the home-leave privileges have been cut off, at least until Schmidt's staff can review each case.

The system of classifying prisoners for different levels of security has been tightened throughout -- a direct response to the uproar over the March 27 arrests -- and in the future inmates such as Day, who are serving long sentences for violent crimes, will no longer qualify for either outside jobs or family leave.

Now, only inmates within 18 months of release can qualify for minimum security, whre prisoners live in open dorms but are surrounded by electronic gates and double fences. To graduate from there to prerelease centers, where prisoners move with some freedom around the grounds, and from there to work-release or any unsupervised forays into the outside world, they must be no more than a year from release; and sex offenders are barred from prerelease centers in all cases. Before, there were no such restrictions.

These changes are being hailed by politicians, local police officials and prison guards who denounced Kamka throughout his 2 1/2-year tenure. But prison reformers and some guards say they fear the tightened rules and backup of inmates will breed frustration and unrest inside the prisons, especially as the summer heat intensifies.

"I just feel that eventually there's going to be a serious problem at this institution," a guard at the Brockbrige complex here said recently, looking at the two-story, minimum-security prison from outside the wire fences. Many of the 600 Brockbridge prisoners used to work during the day on unsupervised work details, he noted. But those privileges have been canceled for all but prerelease prisoners; and for now, there are few other programs for minimum-security inmates.

"We've got 600 men here in a place were we used to have 400," he said. "And now there's practically nothing for them to do. They hang around all day long, they don't get tired. After a while, their frustrations start coming out. With this place being minimim security, if these guys ever decide to take off, the guards wouldn't stand a chance."

That is only one of the problems that Schmidt and his team are talking abou at their Towson headquarters. They say they hope to attack it by putting inmates to work inside prison walls, possibly producing materials that can be sold to the state, but that will take years to accomplish. "That's number three on our priority list," Schmidt said. "Number one is proper security for the public and the employes. Second is for us to live within our budget so we don't go to jail."

Schmidt himself is another symbol of how the system has changed. His soft-spoken, managerial style contrasts starky with that of the combative Kamka, who repeatedly did battle with guards, wardens and legislators who opposed his policies.

Schmidt, the governor's trusted budget chief, took the prisons job reluctantly at first, having just spent 10 years as the state's top fiscal expert, analyzing the management ills of other agencies. A low-profile, career bureaucrat, Schmidt said he quickly began to enjoy life on the front line, even in a department that he called "in many says a mess.

"One thing that became obvious was that there were no systems at all, and if someone came up here and just developed systems, they would have a good chance of turning it around," he said. Kamka's reformist policies never really got tested, Schmidt said, "because he didn't manage the system."

In the last three months, Schmidt has held open gripe sessions with wardens and guards, called in consultants, commissioned confidential reports and appointed task forces to study 10 problem areas. The new regulations are a product of some of those studies. "We've had so many reports coming in and out of here that we almost need a traffic cop to keep up with them," said department spokesman Bill Clark.

So far, the technique -- which Schmidt calls "participatory management" -- has met with considerable support among guards and wardens who used to complain loudly about Kamka. Schmidt apparently won over those groups when he named Jon Galley, the popular warden of a medium-security prison in Hagerstown, to be corrections commissioner, turning aside earlier plans by Huges to conduct a nationwide search for an outside expert. Soon afterward, Schmidt ordered the construction of new guard towers and razor-topping for the fences around the Hagerstown prison -- facilities Galley had been requesting ever since the escape of six men earlier this year.

To show their appreciation, the Hagerstown guards threw a ceremonial dinner for Galley last Friday night at a local fire hall.

Schmidt's fence-mending talents may have taken much of the fire out of the prisons issue in Maryland, which had developed into the most serious political crisis of Hughes' administration. Three months ago, politicians around the state were decrying the 27 arrests as a signal that Hughes and Kamka had compromised public safety. Hughes' most likely Republican challenger, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Pascal, called the prisons issue the weakest spot in Hughes' political armor.

Much of that criticism has abated now. And officials may have won some breathing room on the chronic ovedrcrowding problem through the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion allowing double-celling in certain prisons. Authorities here are hoping that portions of a 512-cell prison annex now opening here will qualify for the double-celling, meaning it can accommodate an extra 222 inmates.

"If Schmidt turns it around, it'll weaken the issue," Pascal said. "But I think that the way Harry handled it for two and one-half years will be an issue at whatever point one wants to raise it."

Hughes insists that the changes reflect only a much-needed stress on good management -- not a retreat from the progressive corrections policies that he defended throughout Kamka's tenure. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the state has backed away from plans to expand community prisons programs advocated by Kamka. And now a task force appointed at Hughes' request is debating whether Maryland needs to build yet another medium-security prison -- a step Hughes had resisted for the first half of his term.

Regardless of how Hughes views the changes, they have been interpreted by prison-reform groups and conservatives alike as a major departure, concessions to prevailing political winds. Hughes has been quizzed on his philosphy at every press conference of the last three months, and each time, he reasserts that his views have not changed.

At a recent press conference where Schmidt was present, Hughes looked on wearily as reporters pressed the new prisons chief with the same questions.At last, Hughes took back the microphone and said with finality: "Our philosphy is also to have progressive programs that will prepare people to return to society . . . I think that Secretary Schmidt and I both share that same philosphy. Thank you very much." He then abruptly adjourned the press conference.

Wednesday, Schmidt announced that Harford County Sheriff William J. Kunkel, one of the most vocal critics of past correction department policy, has been appointed to head the Maryland Parole Commission.

"I think I can be fair and display compassion," Kunkel said after the appointment, "but I am certainly not a bleeding heart."