Commissioners disagree on how to ease jail woes

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

Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell has proposed building a new county jail, but Commissioners Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy say adding space to the current jail would be better.

"Is the time now to make the critical move and go for a new jail?" Mr. Dell asked Friday. "Are we being penny wise and pound foolish for not going for that right now?"

Mrs. Gouge said the county needs more jail beds soon and building a new jail would take two to three years, which is too long. Mr. Lippy said he doesn't know where Carroll would get the estimated $4 million needed to build a new 200-bed jail.

The commissioners met with Sheriff John H. Brown, Circuit Court Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., Public Works Director Keith R. Kirschnick and other officials Friday to discuss the county's options.

The 120-bed Carroll County Detention Center at 100 N. Court St. is overcrowded. The county has planned for about four years to build an 80-bed addition, which could handle growth in the prisoner population for 10 to 15 years. But 16 bids received in January all were over the county's estimate.

County officials had estimated that the addition would cost about $2.2 million. Bids ranged from $3.1 million to $3.6 million.

The state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning has agreed to pay 53 percent of the expansion cost.

The commissioners have been considering buying modular jail cells as a cheaper alternative than the jail expansion. In the past month, they visited three jails -- two in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania -- that use different types of modular cells to house prisoners, and they have talked with sales representatives from several companies that make modular cells.

Mr. Dell suggested Friday that the Northern Landfill outside Westminster would be a good place for a new jail. The current jail could be converted to county office space, he said.

He estimated a 200-bed jail built with modular cells would cost $4 million.

Mr. Dell also has suggested that the landfill would be a good place for an incinerator that would burn garbage to generate electricity.

The current jail is near the county day-care center and expanding the jail would take parking space needed for county employees, he said.

If the commissioners don't act now to solve the jail's overcrowding problem, residents might say in the future that "those people did not have any vision," Mr. Dell said.

"I don't know how long in the future we have to look," Mr. Lippy said.

He predicted that residents who live near the landfill would object to a jail there. He has said he would support using modular cells for a jail addition.

Mrs. Gouge said the county would not be wasting money if it built an addition to the jail and later converted the jail to office space.

She said she would rely on the advice of county law enforcement and building employees about whether modular cells would work for an addition.

A new jail "is something we need to look at for the future" but not at present, she said.

Sheriff Brown said he opposes modular cells because they would not be as secure as "bricks and mortar." At one point in the discussion, he called a modular cell "a tin can."

"I can understand your concern about trying to save money, and I'm in complete agreement with that," he told the commissioners. "You're not going to get a Cadillac for the price of a Ford. We're getting more and more hard-nosed criminals up here."

If modular cells are used for the expansion, he would have to hire 24 more deputies to ensure the facility's safety, he said, "So, what really are you saving in the long run?"

Judge Beck said the current jail site is not an ideal location because there is not much room for growth and it is in the middle of what has become a county government complex of buildings.

But, he said, a new jail should be only a five- to 10-minute drive from the courthouse.

The current jail was built in 1970. An addition was built in 1985.

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