Boot camp out of the blue

June 16, 1993

U.S. Army Col. Kent D. Menser obviously wasn't paying attention when Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall got burned for trying to build a jail in Glen Burnie without telling anybody. Otherwise, he wouldn't have waited so long to tell Odenton residents that the state-run Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp may soon be moving to Fort George G. Meade.

Colonel Menser, whom the Army has ordered to retire June 30, has done a great job of reaching out to the Odenton community. That is why civic leaders were so surprised that the boot camp proposal -- a mere idea when last they heard of it -- has moved far enough along that a specific site has been identified: across Route 175 from the Seven Oaks community. Though Colonel Menser stresses he's neutral at this point, state officials are sounding awfully optimistic that a new home for the boot camp has been found.

Knowing Colonel Menser, we are convinced there was no deliberate attempt to deceive the public. He says he makes a practice of gathering every bit of information, including details as specific as a site, before making any final decision. The problem is that citizens assume decisions are being made as this information is collected. They learn that Army and state officials have signed a memorandum of understanding to move the camp and logically assume that this is a done deal.

Frankly, there's no reason why this successful prison program shouldn't come to Fort Meade. The camp has graduated 600 inmates, most of whom have not returned to jail. It is a rigorous basic training course for first- and second-time offenders, designed to turn them around by using military training tactics.

What better place for a boot camp than a military installation? Moreover, it makes economic sense to transfer the camp, which has outgrown its current quarters in Jessup, to the base. The state wouldn't have to pay for the land, while the Army could use the inmates to perform free maintenance work in and around the facility -- under close supervision.

Colonel Menser says he will hold a public hearing within two weeks if he decides to recommend that the Army approve the boot camp; neighbors' comments would be included in his report.

That's fine. Still, considering how upsetting corrections projects are to any community, he would have been wise to have told them about this one before now.

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