Detention center debacle

November 23, 1992

The Anne Arundel County Detention Center debacle has been politics at its worst -- and it isn't over yet.

This disgraceful episode appeared to end recently when four of the seven county council members voted to build a new 650-bed jail next to the existing one on Jennifer Road near Annapolis. Council members used a double standard to justify their choice over sites in their districts, but at least a decision was made.

Now County Executive Robert R. Neall tells us he doesn't want to build the jail on Jennifer Road, only a short-term expansion. He wants to go back to the site he's wanted all along -- the old Army depot at New Ordnance Road.

Say this for the insistent Mr. Neall: He doesn't give up easily.

North County residents, the county council and a citizen's task force he helped appoint have all rejected New Ordnance Road.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declared the site contaminated with excessive radiation. Still Mr. Neall believes that, if cleaned up, this is the right place.

And so we are back to square one.

One thing can be said: The jail controversy has been handled abominably from the start.

Mr. Neall made the first mistake last January by asking the state to approve money for a Glen Burnie jail -- without telling area residents. After his proposal fell through, the county appointed a citizen's task force (including corrections experts) to recommend sites. But when it dismissed New Ordnance Road, Mr. Neall and his chief ally, Councilwoman Diane Evans, promptly discredited the panel.

Other council members followed suit, once the task force suggested sites in their districts. They threw out everything the panel had come up with and made the politically expedient choice of Jennifer Road -- even though the site meets virtually none of the county's own criteria.

So what has the county accomplished? It has infuriated people from Glen Burnie to Bristol. It has gutted the concept of a citizen's task force. It has worsened an already bad relationship with Annapolis leaders by not granting them the courtesy of a phone call about plans for Jennifer Road. And it's given people a reason to believe every negative stereotype about government.

The one thing it hasn't accomplished is finding a sensible place for more jail space.

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