The Board of Public Works has approved more than $1 million for preliminary work on two new prisons to house Maryland's burgeoning inmate population.
The board, which comprises the governor, comptroller and treasurer, yesterday voted to spend $1.2 million for a 420-bed minimum security prison that inmate laborers are to build next to Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore.
The board also agreed to spend $140,000 for a consultant to prepare architectural, engineering and site plans for a 2,500-bed prison that is to be built at an undetermined location in Allegany County in Western Maryland.
The facilities are part of a $500 million prison-construction program planned for the next 10 years.
The Eastern Shore prison will be built largely with inmate labor and design work, marking the first time in years that prisoners have been used to construct an entire prison, said Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services.
A Delaware contractor who is serving a life sentence for murder will design the pre-cast concrete forms used in the construction, Robinson said.
The state will be saving money on construction costs by using inmate labor at the new Eastern Shore prison, he said.
Inmate labor also is expected to help hold down the cost of building the larger prison in Allegany. Preliminary estimates released last year stated the Western Maryland prison could cost up to $160 million to build by 1997.
The board approved $500,000 to cover start-up costs for the Eastern Shore prison, including the construction of a security fence and site plan work. It approved $730,000 to buy new or used equipment, such as pickup trucks, backhoes, a crane, dump trucks, trailers and a forklift.
The Somerset County facility is scheduled for completion in late 1992.
Robinson said Maryland must move quickly on its large construction program to try to keep up with a growing inmate population.
The state prison system currently has 18,300 inmates, and that number is growing by 110 a month, he said. However, the prison population is increasing at a lower rate that it was last year, he said.
Two housing units with a total of 336 beds will open later this
summer at the prison complex in Jessup, and two more units with a total of 384 beds are under contract, officials said.
Outside the meeting, Robinson said the prison system will continue to face overcrowding.
"The public wants people locked up. They don't care about rehabilitation," he said.
He said society needs to do more to help troubled children before they grow up and commit crimes. "The front end of the system has failed," he said, referring to the social institutions that deal with sociopathic youths.
The average prisoner stays 30 months, and the prison system is "expected to transform the guy into a model citizen" in that time, he said.
In another matter, the board approved $454,000 for the operation of a new child-care center at a state office building in Crownsville in Anne Arundel County. The center met with controversy during the 1991 General Assembly session when legislators complained they were left out of the approval process.