Hearing is promised if Toulson move OK'd Menser says he's still undecided on plan

June 14, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Denying reports that he already has made up his mind to support a state proposal to move the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp from Jessup to Fort Meade, the post's garrison commander has promised to hold a public hearing before submitting a recommendation supporting the plan to the Army.

Col. Kent D. Menser said in an interview Friday that he will make his recommendation before retiring at the end of the month, but will not propose moving the camp until hearing from neighborhood residents.

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services proposed moving the camp to Fort Meade last year, enabling it to expand from 365 to 500 inmates. It would be located 100 yards south of Route 175, near Route 32.

Colonel Menser announced the proposal in October, but has been silent on the issue until last week, when state officials detailed their plans and made the location public.

Odenton community leaders, who have praised Colonel Menser for keeping them abreast of post developments, criticized the base leader for excluding the community in the decision-making process.

"I can understand why the public would jump to the conclusion that this is a done deal," Colonel Menser said. "When you collect all this information, it appears you are into the approval process. That is just not the case."

He said eight staff members have been gathering information and data, which will be presented to him within the next 10 days. "From my standpoint, things are no different today than they were seven months ago," he said.

The boot camp, located in the massive state prison complex in Jessup, is a rigorous six-month course aimed at changing attitudes of first- and second-time offenders. Most have been imprisoned on assault or drug charges. Prison officials say a majority of the graduates have not returned to jail.

State and Army officials are negotiating a deal in which the state would receive the Fort Meade land for free in exchange for the base getting free labor from the prisoners.

Once the report is on his desk, Colonel Menser said, he will decide either to reject the state's offer or go forward. If he picks the latter, he said he will schedule the public meeting. Public comments would be included in his report to the Army.

Colonel Menser stressed he is neutral on the proposal, but spoke highly of the many positive aspects of having the facility on post.

He said the only possible site is Route 32 and 175, which is across the street from a major housing development, because it is the only place with enough barracks to house the prisoners. He said a line of fir trees would shield the complex from the road and nearby community.

The prison also would be located in the same area as the $40 million science center and laboratory that the Environmental Protection Agency wants to build. That center is part of an overall plan to turn Fort Meade into a federal office park and education center.

Colonel Menser said the boot camp would not be out of place in that environment. "Universities are very diverse," he said. "Those people who go to boot camp are going through the education process.

"I see the boot camp as fitting into our community vision," he said. "It is a novel step toward making these citizens more productive [members] of the community."

The only negative aspect is the public's perception that all prisons are alike, he said.

"The boot camp is not for hard-core criminals," the colonel said. "There is a perception by many that a correctional facility is a correctional facility is a correctional facility. There is a misconception of what this really is."

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