About five weeks from now, county residents will know which of nine sites is being recommended for a new county jail.
At its meeting Wednesday night, the Detention Center Siting and Alternative Sentences Task Force appointed three members to visit each of the locations being considered and evaluate them based on seven criteria, including distance from courts and the use of adjacent land.
The members will recommend one site to the rest of the group. If the task force agrees with the choice, the prospective jail site will be presented at a public hearing next month.
At that hearing, the task force will invite the heads of community associations, civic groups and public officials to comment on the proposed site.
Task force members hope the hearing will help build a consensus for the $87 million, 650-bed detention center.
Their strategy includes a public information campaign to educate the community on the need for a new detention center, as well as the alternative options to incarceration.
"They [the public] will respond to the need for a new detention center, and they will respond to the particular site," said task force chairman Nicholas Demos.
The task force is scheduled to report to County Executive Robert R. Neall by Oct. 15. But Mr. Demos said at last week's meeting that if the task force needs more time to go through this process, he would make that recommendation to Mr. Neall.
The 11-member task force was formed after the County Council this spring rejected an 85-acre site on New Ordnance Road just south of the Beltway that Mr. Neall favored.
The property, which used to be an Army munitions depot, is opposed by several community
groups, including several members of the task force.
At Wednesday's meeting, members debated whether to use the information gathered by the consultant that recommended the Ordnance Road location over the other sites.
"I think we're spinning our wheels," said vice-chairman Robert Moore, president of the Greater Brooklyn Park Association of Councils.
He argued that by using the consultant's data, "I think the site is going to come out exactly what it was nine months ago."
But county staff members pointed out that hiring a new consultant would take too much time, and the consultant probably would come to a different conclusion just to justify its hiring. Mr. Demos, along with a majority of the committee, agreed.
"We can't go back and undo a year and a half of planning," Mr. Demos said.
He advocated using the consultant's technical research in conjunction with other criteria to make the decision. "That's about what we can do in six weeks, in my judgment," he said.
Meanwhile, the task force continues to explore alternatives to jail sentences that would reduce the detention center population.
Seven task force members visited the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center last week and came back excited about the concept.
The pre-release center, which was built with state funds and operated with a per-diem from the state for each inmate, admits prisoners before the end of their sentences and works on re-integrating them into the community.
Inmates must attend mandatory intensive treatment programs on drug and alcohol addictions, psychological problems, or whatever is needed to keep the inmate out of the corrections system after release.
"It's just like being in jail, but you are being re-integrated into the community," Mr. Demos said. "It's a much, much higher level of accountability."
The pre-release center in Montgomery County can handle 125 inmates.
A center in Anne Arundel County, which handles about the same number of inmates as Montgomery County, could benefit a similar number of people.
Alternatives such as the pre-release center will not alleviate the need for a new detention center, Mr. Demos said.