Detention Center is full of ills Facility 'was never meant to be' prison

April 25, 1993|By John Morris and Andrea F. Siegel | John Morris and Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writers

A west wing dormitory at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center is a microcosm of everything that ails the 26-year-old jail near Annapolis Mall.

Here, 23 inmates mill about in a dimly lighted cage designed to hold 10. The inmates prefer the low lighting; with little space to do anything else, it lets them sleep away the day.

While people argue over how big a jail the county needs and where it should be built, few contest that the Jennifer Road facility, despite millions of dollars in renovations and additions, is an inadequate hodgepodge.

When opened in 1967, the jail was designed to house about 200 people, nearly all awaiting trial, in dormitories. But about every two years for more than a decade, the county has added to what has become a patchwork of renovations, additions and makeshift space. The facility is now designed to hold fewer than 600 inmates.

"In the '60s, this was a short-term holding facility. It was never meant to be" a prison, said Richard Baker, who became the superintendent in 1983 -- just before the jail population boomed.

But times changed. On Nov. 10, 1992, of 693 inmates there, 379 -- 55 percent -- were serving sentences, as opposed to awaiting trial. Of those sentenced, 110, or 29 percent, were serving

between 12 and 18 months.

From the outside, the two-story Detention Center resembles a poorly arranged pile of packages wrapped in concertina wire.

Inside, doorways lead to mazes of corridors, stairwells and more doorways, with no obvious logic. Swing open a door and you could face startled check-in clerks surrounded by stacks of paper, or inmates draped

See JAIL, 6B

From 1B

over beds and tables, which are bolted to the floor.

And as the jail population has mushroomed, so has the jail's staff, from about 60 people in 1983 to about 220 in 1993. That has put office space at a premium.

Some offices are upholstered closets -- old storage rooms crammed with desks and filing cabinets -- amid inmate dormitories. Even though an administrative section was opened in 1990, many offices are randomly scattered throughout the old jail.

With storage areas converted to offices, "We can't keep a large supply of anything on hand," Mr. Baker said.

Space for some things has not changed since the jail was built. The kitchen is the original, geared toward feeding 200 people. Preparation of three daily meals runs from midnight to 7 p.m. The cooks work elbow-to-elbow.

In the 96-inmate west wing of the original jail, an 18-foot by 18-foot "everything" room serves as the library, income tax preparation room, anti-drug and alcohol classroom, and so on. Its walls are plastered with movie posters, ironically including

one for "Unlawful Entry" -- the story of a policeman who terrorizes a couple whose case he had been summoned to investigate.

GED classes are run there two hours a day, though Mr. Baker said he would like to have a full-time school. When literacy is

taught, it's

often in the hallway. Though most inmates are not jailed long enough to complete a study course that goes more than 3 months, the majority could benefit from just about any basic education, Mr. Baker said.

Inmates are permitted outside for one hour every other day; there are only two outdoor recreation areas.

Mr. Baker is a leading advocate for the construction of a new jail, with more space for inmate programs, studies and outdoor recreation; more space for his officers; and more space for storage and other support services.

"Give me a new facility and we can do wonders," he said.

In the past three years, the county has paid more than $300,000 to two consulting groups to determine the size, shape and location of a new jail. Even many who question the projection that the county will need to house 1,449 inmates by 2010 consider the existing jail obsolete. County Executive Robert R. Neall, who would like to build a completely new jail on more land elsewhere, has called the existing jail "dysfunctional."

Over community objection, Mr. Neall planned last year to build a jail on 85 acres on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. But the site, a former military depot, is contaminated with radioactive material. The problem was discovered in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission survey, performed in May at the insistence of county officials.

The County Council directed Mr. Neall to see what was feasible )) on the Jennifer Road site, where the county owns about 19

xTC acres. A consultant is expected to give Mr. Neall a completed report this week.

The draft, which he received last week, gives the county a choice of building a temporary addition at Jennifer Road, or consuming the county-owned property there and building a jail that would house up to about 1,450 inmates. Should the county need to house more inmates, it would need to build elsewhere.

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