Prisons can't get ahead of crowding Building program has no effect on overcrowding.

January 02, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

The state prison system ended the year the way it started -- overcrowded, despite adding almost 1,700 new beds for prisoners.

The state prison population grew by almost 100 each month in 1991, ending the year at 18,770.

"Every day is a record," said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a spokesman for the system.

The state opened five new prison buildings in 1991, three in Hagerstown and two in Jessup. Officials hoped the 1,680 new beds -- most of them two to a cell -- would give them some breathing room. But, almost as quickly as the new cells opened, new prisoners flooded in to fill them.

"Although we added new beds, we've almost broken even in the past year, and we find ourselves in a daily struggle to find beds," Shipley said.

Shipley said the new beds allowed the state to make some much-needed changes.

For example, the state was able to close the decrepit South Wing at the Maryland Penitentiary last year. But that meant the loss of about 150 beds the state was using last January. The Division of Correction, under prodding from civil-rights advocates, agreed to reduce the number of inmates held in the old Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, the scene of a riot earlier this year.

The net increase in prisoners means most prisons are still jammed.

At the Roxbury Correctional Institution, for example, officials have resumed putting large groups of prisoners into makeshift dormitories set up in small day rooms, which had stopped at one point during the year.

"We certainly made advances in the quality of housing," Shipley said. "The quantity, however, has remained close to the same."

The continued surge in inmate population comes despite aggressive efforts by prison officials to reduce the number of non-violent offenders.

The state boot camp program, which leads to early release for eligible inmates, was expanded. And officials launched the state's home detention program for dozens of inmates last year.

Also, more than 2,600 inmates were released early last year after collecting special credit for serving some of their sentences in two-inmate cells. Some inmates shaved several months off of their sentences under the special credit program, Shipley said.

The state took over the old Baltimore City Jail on July 1. Although about 3,000 inmates are held there, the state counts only those who are already tried and sentenced -- 467 as of Tuesday-- when it figures its total inmate population.

The state does not officially count the approximately 500 inmates housed in the Patuxent Institution, which is not run by the Division of Correction.

In May, the state opened the three buildings near Hagerstown, each with 192 cells, at a cost of about $7.5 million.

Later, the state opened two buildings at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, one with 144 cells, the other 192. Two new units with a total of 768 beds are scheduled to open in March.

More construction is planned.

The state Board of Public Works in June approved more than $1 million for preliminary work on two new prisons, a 420-bed minimum-security prison next to Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore and a 2,500-bed medium-security prison slated for Allegany County.

The Eastern Shore prison is scheduled to open in 1993, the Western Maryland facility some time later.

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