Jail foes to bend ear of delegates Addition plan rouses opposition

October 12, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

A coalition of Annapolis community associations opposed to locating a $71 million addition to the detention center in their midst has shifted its focus to the General Assembly delegation.

The Civic Associations of Annapolis will meet tonight with the District 30 delegation that represents the historic town: Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad and Dels. John C. Astle, Michael E. Busch and Phillip D. Bissett.

But they may be preaching to the choir. Members of the local delegation say they are already firmly opposed to the County Council's decision to expand the jail on Jennifer Road.

"The meeting is more of a rally than a meeting," Mr. Winegrad said. "I've taken a strong position against it. I just think it's the wrong site."

The council made the decision to expand the existing facility last November, after fierce community opposition to placing an addition in Millersville, which was favored by a site selection committee.

Mr. Winegrad said he and his three colleagues will actively work to block state funding for the jail. County officials are counting on the state to pay $31.7 million toward the cost, about half the total.

"We had a meeting to derive a strategy on how we could block this from the House side and the Senate side," he said, noting that Mr. Astle sits on the Appropriations Committee. "We've got a game plan and we're going to work really hard at it."

The proposed addition would be built in three phases over the next decade and would eventually house 1,200 inmates. Each new phase would be built only after an evaluation by county officials of the space requirements in the jail.

The existing facility is officially approved to house 600 inmates, but can fit as many as 750 if every available bed is used. Last week, 560 inmates were housed at the jail during the week, but there were more than 600 when people with weekend sentences, mostly for drunken driving, reported.

Members of the Civic Associations of Annapolis said building the jail addition at Jennifer Road is a bad idea because of the excessive cost, the issue of the safety of nearby neighborhoods and the impact of new construction and a larger population on Weems Creek.

"We think it makes a lot of sense to do it somewhere else and to do it more economically," said Dan Masterson, an Admiral Heights resident who is one of the leaders of the fight against the jail expansion.

Mr. Masterson points out that Prince George's County built its detention center in the mid-1980s for $27.5 million, at that time the costliest prison construction project in state history.

Prince George's County cut some of its costs by splitting its work-release and drunken-driving inmates, who require a lower level of security, into a separate facility. Mr. Masterson said the county should consider doing the same. The site-selection committee recommended that the county consider a separate work-release facility or prerelease program for inmates about to finish their sentences. Such a facility would cost about $10 million.

A consultant's study ordered by the county had said that building a new jail away from the Jennifer Road facility would save about $30 million. But stiff community opposition in Glen Burnie, Millersville and Pasadena convinced county officials to keep the jail contained within Annapolis.

Mr. Masterson said his association would not recommend a particular site to county officials. "We're not prepared to tell them what to do. They've had people do that in past," he said. "They had very good people on that [site selection] committee, and they made good recommendations.

In addition to lobbying the General Assembly, the coalition is meeting with members of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget staff to block funding at that level. And there is always the possibility of a lawsuit.

"A number of people want to push for taking it to court right now," said Annapolis Alderman Dean Johnson, who is also involved in the fight to block the jail expansion. "But we want to see what the political structure will offer us."

Organizers are hoping to get the same response from Annapolis residents that community groups in North County, Millersville and Pasadena were able to muster when they discovered that their neighborhoods were under consideration last year for the jail.

"Annapolis doesn't have a recent tradition of really battling well, compared to other communities out in the county who, when it comes time to rattle their cages, can really get their people out," Mr. Johnson said.

The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the second-floor auditorium of the Anne Arundel Medical Center on Jennifer Road, across from the detention center.

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