Saturday, July 14, 2007

Western Maryland officials are protesting the release of ex-convicts at a Greyhound station in Hagerstown, saying the process leads former inmates to stay in the area and in some cases commit crimes.

“They’re dropped off with $40 [at the bus station], and anything that happens beyond that point is pure speculation,” Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said yesterday.

For more than four years, Hagerstown officials have lobbied for inmates to be returned to their hometowns when released from area detention centers.

Washington County receives dozens of inmates from its three detention facilities and those discharged from two facilities in Alleghany County, where there is no bus service to take them home. Washington and Alleghany are two of the state’s western-most counties.

Most of these inmates are from Baltimore and Prince George’s County, said Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur R. Smith. He links the influx of former prisoners to the city’s drug problem.

However, the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services says a review last year of inmate-release data in Hagerstown found few prisoners stayed upon release if they had no family connection there.

“We believe that the impact [of ex-convicts] is less than the perception in the community,” said agency spokesman Mark A. Vernarelli. “It’s our intention to follow this as closely as we can and allay the concerns of the community.”

Chief Smith said he doesn’t dispute the statistics, but prisoners still have contributed to the city’s volume of crime.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s one” prisoner, said Mr. Bruchey, who worked in the state’s corrections department for 15 years before becoming mayor. “It’s one too many who end up here and don’t belong here.”

There were about 23,000 inmates in Maryland’s correctional facilities last year, and nearly 14,000 of them were released, Mr. Vernarelli said. He did not have specific numbers for inmates in Washington and Alleghany counties.

The Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported yesterday that Hagerstown officials recently met with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to voice their concerns.

Though Mr. Gansler, a Democrat, does not have the oversight or power to change the prisoner-release policy, state spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said the attorney general “empathizes” with residents and is willing to write a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, on their behalf.

Hagerstown officials said the next step is to approach corrections department Secretary Gary D. Maynard to ask for policy changes within the agency.

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