Expansion of the Carroll County Detention Center is imperative. Any further delay potentially endangers the safety of the community and the sheriff's deputies who guard the inmates at the 120-bed jail.
Even though the bids for the 18,000-square foot expansion are about $1 million more than the architect's estimates, county officials should find the money to finance the construction of 80 extra beds.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell has suggested that home detention programs would allow the expansion to be put off. The county recently received authorization from the General Assembly to begin home detention. Mr. Dell argues that the 25 to 30 prisoners who can be confined at home will free space in the detention center. Mr. Dell's argument makes sense in theory, but not in reality.
Two types of people are held in the detention center -- suspects awaiting trial and those convicted of crimes and sentenced to a year or less. Detainees charged with non-violent felonies but who can't make bail are the best candidates for home detention, but they are typically a small portion of the jail population. Judges have set high bail or no bail for many of the inmates because they fear they will flee to escape trial, or the prisoners present a danger to the community. Home detention is not viable in those cases.
If home detention were available today, it would be only a stop-gap solution. At most, 10 inmates would be eligible for the program -- not enough to justify postponing the expansion.
Society expects convicted criminals to spend some time in jail. Home detention is suitable punishment in some instances, but it is, of course, much less onerous than time behind bars. Releasing convicts on home detention near the end of their sentences can be appropriate and should be used in certain cases. However, judges who sentence people to incarceration are loathe to see them released simply because insufficient space exists at the lock-up.
The extra jail space is needed immediately. On many weekends, inmates are sleeping in hallways and common rooms, creating supervision problems. Having inmates out of their cells for extended periods is inviting trouble. A jail disturbance would make that extra $1 million in construction costs look cheap by comparison.