Hayden seeks to regain control of county jail Sheriff dissents

council to decide

January 22, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden wants to regain control of the county jail system in Towson from Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr.

Sheriff Pepersack said Mr. Hayden told him in a "30-second" phone call late Tuesday that he would submit takeover legislation to the County Council, but he offered no reason for the move.

"I don't agree with you," Sheriff Pepersack said he responded.

The move has been rumored for months, although the county's administrative officer, Merreen E. Kelly, said yesterday that it's not part of Mr. Hayden's plan to cut county spending or a reaction to a council audit critical of the jail's private medical contractor.

"The jail is a county funded operation and comes under the county's area of responsibility," Mr. Hayden said late yesterday.

The county government controlled the jail until 1979, when Donald P. Hutchinson, then the executive, transferred it to the sheriff's office after a year-long dispute with the jail's former administrator, Eugene M. Nuth.

Why switch back? "The times have changed," Mr. Hayden said yesterday.

"This is the fifth or sixth most expensive operation in county government and it is not under the direct control of the executive," Mr. Kelly added. "There's no opportunity for the executive to have an effect on policy or decision making."

The jail budget this year, including salaries for 200 guards, is $10.3 million. Mr. Hayden said he expected no cost savings from shifting authority to the county government.

Mr. Kelly said that if the County Council approves the change, he will directly supervise the detention facilities.

As sheriff, Mr. Pepersack is an elected state official who also is responsible for security at the County Courts Building and for having court notices served by his 56 deputies.

The sheriff said he opposes moving the jail system because it will cost money and because the jail "is a very viable part of the criminal justice community."

The jail system consists of the main Detention Center on Kenilworth Drive, where a 216-bed addition is under construction, and the old jail complex on Bosley Avenue at Towsontown Boulevard, now know as the Courthouse Court facility. Together, they hold about 900 prisoners, although some are on work release and home arrest.

Mr. Hayden's efforts to cut county expenses, which he said will result in the loss of as many as 500 jobs next month, also include plans to hire private companies to perform some government jobs. A private firm already has been hired to run the detention center's medical program, although a council audit of that effort's first few months is highly critical.

The audit cited loose controls on narcotic medicines and sharp medical instruments.

One inmate stole a small amount of methadone from a detention center safe in October, the report said, and there were 517

methadone tablets unaccounted for because of loose reporting procedures.

Methadone is a prescription narcotic drug that blocks an addict's craving for heroin.

In addition, jail officials could not find some inmates' medical records, while other inmates had not been given physician exams within 14 days of entry, as required.

The report also said the jail administration had failed to assess $40,000 in fines that were allowed under the contract with Coastal Correctional Health Care Inc., which took over the system July 1.

Sheriff Pepersack said most of those problems have been corrected by eliminating the use of temporary nurses who aren't used to dealing with jail inmates.

"This is why drugs are missing," Mr. Pepersack said. "You don't bring nurses into a Detention Center from hospitals and nursing homes. Good people aren't here," he said of the jail population.

He said an inmate is under investigation for theft of methadone in the October incident and that charges likely will be filed soon.

He added that all drugs and sharp objects now are being accounted for, and that physical exams are more timely.

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