DWI Jail Takes a Right Turn

August 19, 1993

Every year in Baltimore County, about 3,000 people are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. A third of them are repeat offenders.

The impact of these drunk drivers can be devastating. Numerous local traffic deaths are annually attributed to DWI cases, from 21 fatalities two years ago to as many as 40 in 1988. The tolls rises dramatically when you factor in personal injuries and property damage.

County officials hope to lower these tragic figures with a new 100-bed prison for drunk drivers. The facility's opening seems imminent now that a respected Massachusetts-based firm, Right Turn Inc., has won the bid to operate the county's DWI jail at the Rosewood State Hospital Center in Owings Mills. The new jail could be open by year's end, if the County Council and the state's Board of Public Works give their approval.

Plans for the facility were introduced in 1988 by then-County Executive Dennis Rasmussen. After his successor, Roger Hayden, came into office in 1990, he allocated $700,000 to renovate a building on the Rosewood campus for the planned prison. But then the recession gave Mr. Hayden cold feet about spending $2 million to open the jail.

Enter Right Turn, with what county substance abuse administrator Michael Gimbel calls a "win-win deal." The private firm will cover all costs, from security to food. Meanwhile, the county will pick its own intake counselors and control admissions to the facility. Yet the bill for this activity -- $75,000 -- will be passed along to Right Turn. In contrast, Prince George's County's successful DWI jail, which Baltimore County's will resemble, is run and paid for by the county government.

An especially strong selling point about the planned prison at Rosewood is that the program will require inmates to live there and undergo intensive therapy for 28 days and then undergo regular monitoring for a year, unlike many programs in which drunk drivers are treated for a month and then returned to the streets with no further counseling. Also, the cost is reasonable -- about $3,700 per inmate.

While Right Turn probably wouldn't see a profit until the middle of its five-year contract, the county would see immediate payoffs. Millions of public dollars could be saved, dozens of jobs created, a first-rate facility for incarcerating and treating drunk drivers launched. The biggest bonus, though, would be a drop in those tragic statistics linked to DWI accidents.

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