Neall's One-Track Jail Solution ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

April 28, 1993

After spending three years and $300,000 on jail experts, only one thing is clear: the outdated Anne Arundel County Detention Center on Jennifer Road has to go.

But what kind of a new jail does the county need? How big should it be? Would a smaller, less expensive facility for minimum-security inmates and better use of alternative sentencing make more sense?

So far, County Executive Robert R. Neall has not addressed these issues, at least not publicly. He sticks by his contention that Anne Arundel needs a $60 million to $120 million jail, big enough to house 1,450 prisoners by the year 2010, with room to expand. Next Monday, when he unveils his fiscal year 1994 budget, expect to see a full-scale jail included in the capital program.

It seems hardly possible that the tight-fisted Mr. Neall would be pushing an expensive jail we may not need. He certainly believes we do. Yet unless the county explores the questions raised by the consultants, task forces and other experts who have looked at this problem, how can he be sure building such a jail is the right thing to do?

Experienced, qualified people have offered a variety of opinions. Nicholas Demos, former chairman of two county advisory groups, makes sense when he talks about revamping the corrections system and creating a new community corrections division, with a separate minimum-security work release center, instead of organizing all options around a jail. One of his task forces -- which Mr. Neall discounted -- talked about using more alternative sentencing instead of locking everyone up.

Former corrections planner William E. Lamb, who presented a report on his own, came to similar conclusions. Though his relationship with Councilwoman Maureen Lamb (his mother) made him a poor messenger, he posed a convincing challenge to the statistics on which the need for a 1,400-bed jail is based. Since then, Mr. Neall says another consultant has upheld those original figures.

Who is right? No one knows. That is the problem. The Neall administration has chosen a solution before all the questions have been answered -- indeed, before we know if the right questions have been asked. That is no way to approach a jail that would cost millions to build and millions more to operate, year after year.

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