Opening of drunken-drivers' jail delayed 6 months in Balto Co. Executive Hayden freezes funding.

December 05, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

County Executive Roger B. Hayden has delayed by six months the opening of a drunken-drivers' facility that could possibly relieve current crowding at the Baltimore County Detention Center.

The Hayden move, which was part of his Oct. 30 capital budget freeze, halts the awarding of a $166,000 construction contract to remodel a building on the grounds of the Rosewood Hospital Center near Owings Mills.

The 100-bed, drunken-drivers' facility will combine incarceration with drug and alcohol treatment.

Originally scheduled to open next month, the facility will not be opened until July 1, 1992, the beginning of the next fiscal year, said Sheriff Norman Pepersack.

Pepersack, a Republican like Hayden who was elected in November 1990, downplayed the delay by saying that if the facility were opened immediately, he wouldn't have enough correctional officers to staff it.

"I don't have the trained officers," said Pepersack, who said that he will require $2 million in start-up money to get the drunken-drivers' facility rolling -- money not in his current budget.

In recent weeks, the county detention center in Towson has seen two prisoner protests in response to the crowded conditions. The first happened Nov. 13 when inmates, some of whom had to sleep on the floor, went on a brief hunger strike.

The other incident, which happened a week ago, on Thanksgiving, involved a group of inmates who refused to shut their cell doors.

The detention center, which opened in 1982, was designed to hold 326 inmates in single cells. The current capacity with two to a cell is 497, but this week there were 546 inmates, according to Pepersack.

Because of the crowding, 50 of those inmates have been sleeping on the floors of the cells, said Pepersack.

As of this week, there were 63 inmates being held on charges of drunken driving, the sheriff continued, adding that not all of them could go to the new facility.

That is because some are being held before trial or have not been sentenced yet, said Pepersack. And all would have to be screened to ensure they weren't a security risk.

"We have to be careful not to put out a rapist or murderer," said Pepersack.

A representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a District Court judge both said they were disappointed at the delay in the opening of the drunken-drivers' facility.

"I'm very disappointed to hear that it's not opening sooner," said Judge Lawrence Daniels, "because I can tell you it will be filled within two weeks. There's a great demand for this."

Donna Becker, a member of MADD, said she believes the program, based on a similar facility in Prince George's County, can make an impact on repeat drunken-driving offenders.

"We've always said we'd like to see some education with the jail time," said Becker. "They've got a facility that's already built and they're not using it. It's a waste."

The Richards Building, which will house the Baltimore County facility, needs relatively minor repairs. It needs a kitchen installed, new locks for the doors, security cameras and some repairs to the roof, said Gene Neff, director of public works.

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