Want A Jail Site? How About This?

COMMENT

November 01, 1992|By ELISE ARMACOST

I've got it! The perfect place for Bobby Neall's jail.

It's remote. It's secure. It's the closest thing Anne Arundel County's got to a deserted isle.

It's Gibson Island!

How could the Detention Center Siting and Alternative Sentencing Task Force not have thought of it? Okay, so Gibson Island's not as close to the Annapolis courthouse as we might like. But hey, it's no farther than New Ordnance Road. And we know there's nothing nasty buried there, or all the rich folks wouldn't live there.

Just think of what it would mean for the public safety. It's impossible to get onto Gibson Island, so it figures it would be just as impossible for jailbirds to get off. Unless they were Olympic swimmers, would-be escapees would be out of luck.

It's perfect. Our own little Alcatraz.

Residents have made it clear that none of the sites the task force is considering will suit. Consider the dialogue last week at Glen Burnie High School where 1,000 people from Pasadena, Crownsville, Severna Park and Davidsonville showed up to protest a jail in their neighborhoods. It went something like this:

Pasadena resident No. 1: "The thought of a detention center in the middle of a residential community . . . It's nuts."

Wild applause, cheers, standing ovation from the Pasadena group.

Pasadena resident No. 2: "I'd like it to be at the Charles County site" -- a sand and gravel operation in Davidsonville.

"Boo! Boo! Boo!" cried the Davidsonville folk.

Davidsonville resident No. 1: Only two of 600 county inmates have a Davidsonville address. The jail should, therefore, be built at one of the other sites because "they are close to more densely populated areas where inmates come from."

Boos from everyone but the Davidsonville crowd.

Pasadena resident No. 3 (there were a lot of Pasadena people): "Where I'd like to see it is the Fischer site" -- the Bernard J. Fischer farm in Crownsville.

"Boo! Boo! Boo!" bellowed the Crownsville people.

Members of the Greater Severna Park Council Inc. went around handing out a fancy "weighted criteria" chart, or, as they also called it, a "decision matrix." It assigned points to the prospective sites; the more points, the better the site.

Guess which location had the fewest points? You guessed it, the Darley/Pumphrey property in Severna Park, with a measly 25 points. The lucky winner in the GSPC contest was County Executive Robert R. Neall's preferred spot, New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie.

Scattered throughout the auditorium, the New Ordnance Road people muttered "Boo! Boo! Boo!" under their breath.

Once, just once, it would be nice to hear someone say: "Listen, I don't want to live near a jail. But I know we need them, and if it turns out this is the best place I'm willing to live with it."

Alas, no one ever says that, and no one ever will. People will always come up with a zillion reasons -- some good, some lousy -- why it can't go here.

Concerns about what's buried at Ordnance depot are a good reason. So is the cost of transporting prisoners from the Baltimore City line to Annapolis.

The time, cost and trauma involved in condemning other privately owned properties are a good reason not to build at those sites. (Although, harsh as it may seem, the county has an obligation to condemn property if it is in the best long-term interests of the people to do so).

Sad to say, the lousy reasons are what we hear most often. Here are some:

* "A jail cannot be located in a populated area because jails endanger people who live near them."

In fact, successful detention centers in Montgomery and Baltimore counties are located in residential areas. And crimes involving escaped inmates and neighboring residents are rare. There's some risk. But there's a risk in going to cash your check at the bank these days. * "Jails ruin property values."

A friend of mine lives a half-mile from the detention center in Annapolis. He's re-financed his house twice in last few years and says his valuation has gone up, not down. In Towson, the detention center backs up to the West Towson community, which, at $200,000-plus per house, is as pricey as ever.

* "It's foolish to spend money on a jail when we need funds for schools and the homeless." This is like saying it's stupid to pay the rent because we need food.

* "Prisons aren't the answer. We need more alternative sentencing, more drug and alcohol treatment."

That may be true. But I wonder if people who say this really believe it, or if it's just a convenient argument against a jail in their neighborhood. When a violent crime strikes close to home, people always clamor to lock up the culprits and throw away the key. Which brings us back to the Gibson Island idea. The place is a fortress; why not put it to practical use?

"The Alcatraz of Anne Arundel."

Has a certain ring to it -- unless, of course, you live on Gibson Island.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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