Commissioners tour, mull modular jail cells

June 11, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Carroll commissioners are going to jail today. They'll just be visiting -- and trying to save the county money.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell, Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy have said they want to study whether modular cells would be a good alternative to building an addition to the county detention center. So, they plan to tour a modular jail cell at the Queen Anne's County Detention Center in Centreville.

Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown said he's not sure modular cells are a bargain, even though he said they would cost 20 percent less than building a jail addition.

"I personally do not favor them, but I'll keep an open mind about them," he said. "I still think [building an addition] is the cheapest way to go in the long run, because it will take care of us for the next 10 to 15 years."

Carroll needs more room at its jail, at 100 N. Court St., because the 120-bed jail often is overcrowded, the sheriff said.

County officials had estimated an 80-bed addition would cost about $2.2 million. But 16 bids for the project, opened in January, ranged from $3 million to $3.5 million.

In April, the state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning, which will pay for 53.45 percent of the addition, agreed to give the county $600,000 more for the project. The state's total contribution will be $1.8 million.

Today, the president of Cells America Inc., a Baltimore company that makes modular cells and that sold a cell to Queen Anne's County, will make a sales pitch to the commissioners.

"These buildings are as structurally sound, if not more so, than bricks and mortar," Sal Sabatino, the company president, said.

A person could chip away at brick, but not at steel, he said.

The modular cells have steel walls, concrete floors, rubber roofs and windows with bars and security glass, Mr. Sabatino said. Each cell has two security cameras, a sprinkler system, smoke detectors, showers, sinks and toilets, and the cells can be

stacked three high.

A dormitory unit, where up to 24 inmates stay in an open area, would cost about $200,000, including installation, he said. This is the type of cell used in Queen Anne's County.

Queen Anne's Warden LaMonte Cooke said he houses inmates for nonviolent crimes in the modular cell, which has been in use for about a year. Usually 10 to 12 inmates are housed there. The cell is attached to the jail by a secured hallway.

The inmates in the modular cell are in work-release programs, those authorized to work as trustees in the jail or those jailed only on weekends, he said.

Mr. Cooke said he has not had any security problems with the modular cell.

The county may add another cell in the future, he said. "For us, so far, it's worked."

The cell and installation cost $350,000, Mr. Cooke said. The county received a $150,000 federal grant to help pay for the cell because the jail agreed to house inmates for the U.S. Marshal Service, he said.

That cell is the only one Cells America has sold in Maryland, Mr. Sabatino said. The 5-year-old company has sold three cells in Louisiana and is working with potential customers in other Maryland counties, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts, he said.

The company can install a modular cell within four months of an order, Mr. Sabatino said.

Cells America also sells modular offices and mini-warehouses, and has given Carroll officials a design for an indoor shooting range, he said.

In addition to the commissioners, Capt. Steven Turvin, acting warden at the Carroll detention center, and Col. Charles F. Fowler of the Carroll sheriff's department, were to go on the tour.

Mr. Turvin said he wanted to see the modular cells before deciding whether they would work in Carroll.

"If they [the commissioners] decided to do it, I can make it work," he said.

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