Hidden Cost of Modular Jail Cells CARROLL COUNTY

June 24, 1993

The dithering over increasing the number of cells at the Carroll County Detention Center should come to an end. Even though the lowest bid to build the 80-bed expansion is about $1 million over the architect's estimated cost, the commissioners ought to go ahead with the project instead of wasting their time looking at modular cells.

Much as it might wish otherwise, Carroll County will have a permanent need for more jail cells. The county's population has grown and, thus, so has the number of residents who must be incarcerated. Building modular cells is not a durable solution for jail overcrowding.

While it is nice to get a bargain whenever possible, some bargains aren't worth the savings. The commissioners are already trying to save money by using donated temporary buildings for county offices. The temporary modules for county offices and jail cells have the same problem: They bring a short-term savings, but will cost Carroll taxpayers more money in the long term.

If the commissioners build the modular cells, they should understand that in the future those cells will probably have to be demolished and replaced with a more permanent structure. In effect, the citizens of Carroll will pay twice for the jail cells.

The other problem with the modular cells is that they are of a cookie-cutter design. Instead of getting an expansion designed specifically for Carroll's detention needs, the commissioners will be buying buildings designed to suit the generic needs of jails across the country.

The commissioners also ought to find out if the modular cells require more personnel to supervise inmates. It would be counterproductive to see savings in construction gobbled up by higher staffing costs.

This public project should be designed to last for decades. With good maintenance and periodic modernizing, a public building -- properly constructed -- can have an extremely long life span. The old Carroll County courthouse, built in 1838, is an excellent example for the commissioners to try to emulate.

Saving money should be of paramount concern to the commissioners, but only if there are real, long-term savings involved. With modular jail cells, the savings would be illusory at best.

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