Overwhelmed by the increasing number of inmates, correctional officers at the Baltimore County Detention Center urged the local government to loosen its grip on the county budget just enough to hire more guards to staff its overcrowded jail facilities.
The Maryland Classified Employees Association, which represents the officers, told County Administrator Merreen Kelly yesterday that staff shortages at the center had become so serious that posts on the cellblocks frequently have been shut down.
Mr. Kelly said the situation was something he would definitely "look into." He plans to meet Monday with the budget director to see if there are sources other than county funds to pay for more guards.
Carole Hammen, an MCEA representative, said she felt Mr. Kelly was "receptive." But she warned that "there could be great
security problems" if the administration doesn't soon take action.
Ms. Hammen said that 153 officers are not enough to handle the growing population at the center -- a facility for 320 inmates but currently housing 499. Another facility at the old Towson jail, where trailers were installed in January, is already overcrowded.
Ms. Hammen said the inmate population has "soared" since the budget department conducted a study in 1988 and recommended hiring 33 additional officers.
It was that same study on which Sheriff Norman J. Pepersack based his budget proposal to the County Council and received a $700,000 increase in his $11.5 million budget last year, which includes money to hire five more officers.
However, Ms. Hammen warned that "five openings in no way catches up to the number of officers the Detention Center needed in 1988 or now."