State Corrections Director Gary DeLand has responded to recent criticism by defending his priorities and saying he is not trying to choose his successor.

DeLand said in November he had plans to eventually leave his post and return to private consulting. "I told my staff I was roughly targeting something in a year or so," DeLand said at the time.His hiring of Lane McCotter, New Mexico's corrections superintendent at the time, fueled concerns DeLand was trying to choose his successor and prompted a letter from a group called Citizens for Penal Reform Inc. that urges the governor to conduct a nationwide search for DeLand's replacement, when the time comes.

That letter implies Gov. Norm Bangerter might rubber stamp a recommendation by DeLand on his replacement.

DeLand told the governor in a letter released to the media this week that McCotter's appointment as a division director was made with "several important considerations" in mind. DeLand suggests McCotter would make a good executive director but told the governor, "I would like to make it clear that I understand that it is entirely your decision and not mine" to choose a replacement.

Still undisclosed is how long DeLand plans to keep his post and what process Bangerter would use to replace him.

The Feb. 15 letter Ross Anderson of Citizens for Penal Reform Inc. sent to Bangerter accuses DeLand of drawing the state into scores of lawsuits because of poor conditions at the prison and running the Corrections Department with a "jailer's mind-set" that ignores rehabilitative programs.

DeLand responded by saying his first mission after being hired was to secure the prison. Once he had done that, rehabilitative programs were expanded even though, DeLand said, he does not portray himself as a strong believer in rehabilitation. "I do believe that it is essential for Corrections to offer opportunities to those offenders who wish to change," he said, adding that 87.8 percent of the prisoners paroled in 1989 had been through some type of rehabilitative program before being released from prison.

Regarding lawsuits, DeLand said, the legislative auditor found no evidence of "poor conditions" during a prison audit, and DeLand said that lawsuits the department has chosen to defend "have proven to be in the best interest of the state and will result in significant cost savings in the coming years."