The Maryland prison system has abandoned its practice of reducing the sentences of inmates who are housed in crowded institutions but not directly affected by crowding, state correction officials said yesterday.
The practice had enabled inmates to have their sentences reduced by as many as five days for every month spent in a crowded prison.
One-fourth of the estimated 3,700 people who have left state prisons since April 17 did so with the benefit of the special credits, correction officials said.
Although the practice ended Oct. 1, as was first reported in the Evening Sun, there has been controversy over how the Division of Correction interpreted credit policy.
The issue was whether any inmate in a crowded prison was eligible for early release or whether only those prisoners housed two to a cell or in a crowded space were eligible.
A spokesman for the prison system said yesterday that the regulation, drafted by correction officials, was interpreted from the start as applying to any inmate in a crowded prison, whether or not that inmate
was affected directly by crowding.
A state prison is considered crowded if it is in violation of a court order to decrease the inmate population, if two inmates are housed in a unit built for one, or if dormitories provide less than 55 square feet of personal space per inmate.
The issue came to light after the prison system sought approval from the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review Committee, which reviews state agency regulations, for an emergency regulation that formalized the practice of giving credits to any inmate in a crowded prison.
"The motivation was to deal with the overcrowding problem, to provide another way for inmates to receive
[early leave] credits," said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the Division of Correction. He said the plan would not have raised the total number of credits of all types an inmate could receive per month, "but added another way for them to be earned."
Legislators complained, and the prison system promised to award the credits only to inmates directly affected by crowding.
Delegate Kenneth H. Masters, D-Baltimore County, acting chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, receives regulations scheduled for hearings before the legislative review committee.
He said he was ready to oppose the emergency regulation when the Division of Correction withdrew the request.
"It strikes me as a strange reading of the regulations to apply it [institutionwide]," he said. "If one accepts the rationale for cutting a guy some slack who is packed in like a sardine, I suppose that is supportable."
"But when you extend it to the entire institution, then you can [say] that perhaps we ought to give some more slack to the guy who is double-celled, and on and on and on until the guy would have no sentence at all," he said.