RESTART–Maryland’s wholesale rethinking of the state's system for getting convicts back into the mainstream of society after they finish their sentences, is examined in a long takeout by the Baltimore City Paper. As the program proceeds, corrections officers complain of deep staff cuts, lowered training standards, and poor equipment–all leading to increasing violence in the state's 27 jails and prisons.
RESTART is not a single program, but a compendium of programs and “best practices,” part of a turning tide in the corrections industry nationwide to refocus efforts on rehabilitating inmates, not merely housing them. Many past and present corrections department employees say they like the idea–in theory. In practice, they say the result of the state’s effort to implement it has been more inmate-on-inmate assaults–six murders since January 2004, including the February 2005 murder of Philip E. Parker Jr. on a prison transport bus–and more violence against correctional officers. Jonathan Stevens, who heads up the RESTART pilot at the Hagerstown, Md., prison, explains that imates “develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings around certain situations.” Participants are taught to look out for knee-jerk responses, for example: “All custody staff are bullies.” Corrections officers, on the other hand, might make a thinking error along the lines of “all inmates are dangerous and can't be trusted.” Mary Ann Saar, who took over the state’s public safety department in 2003, wanted to make RESTART a central part of her regime, but the state legislature allowed onl a pilot program in two facilities.