Jumping to conclusions on a new jail ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

October 20, 1992

The Detention Center Siting and Alternative Sentencing Task Force isn't telling the Neall administration what it wants to hear, so the administration doesn't want to listen any more.

The task force hasn't even formally presented its findings on detention center overcrowding, and Councilwoman Diane Evans, a Neall ally, has quit the panel, saying it is "flawed." County Executive Robert Neall, meanwhile, is accusing the group of "playing games." It's obvious that they're trying to discredit the task force so they can oppose its recommendations when they come before the County Council.

Everyone who's followed this controversy believed the task force would choose Mr. Neall's preference: a detention center on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. Mr. Neall had four appointees plus Mrs. Evans on the 11-member panel.

But the task force has a mind of its own. Members challenged the county's criteria and assumptions. They decided Mr. Neall's top two jail sites were no good, and revisited other locations he would just as soon forget. They questioned whether the county would need as large and costly a facility if it took a more innovative route, focusing on alternatives to incarceration such as house arrest and a pre-release center.

The county makes some valid points against increased alternative sentencing, foremost of which is that the county has no control over the judges who decide how an inmate is punished. Any serious discussion of alternative sentencing ought to include the judicial branch -- and it's puzzling that judges were left off this task force. Also, pre-release centers, which provide counseling and training for prisoners nearing the end of their sentences, are as difficult to site as jails. And, even if we had one, we may still need a large detention center because the criminal population is growing. The task force should address these issues when it presents its final report next week.

Unfortunately, the Neall administration seems poised to reject the report before it even reads it. But why not consider all the options? It would be unfair to the citizens on this task force -- and to everyone else with an interest in where this jail is built -- to discard the group's conclusions simply because they do not match the one Mr. Neall reached long ago.

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