Detention center's budget request too high, Councilman Gray says Corrections officials defend need for greater security

November 01, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Councilman C. Vernon Gray says the county detention center doesn't need everything its asking for and the council ought to trim a $510,000 amended budget request tonight.

"I think we need to do an efficient, effective job of protecting the personal safety and security of our citizens and I want to see that we do that," said Mr. Gray, D-3rd District. "But we need to use the money wisely in a way that serves its purpose."

County Corrections Director James N. Rollins told the council at a public hearing Oct. 18 that the money is needed to convert one of the dormitory wings to a maximum security area. The $11 million expansion of the Jessup facility is under construction.

Maximum security is necessary because increasingly the center is housing violent inmates awaiting trial, Mr. Rollins told the council.

Mr. Gray was not persuaded. After touring the center last week, he came away confused about what the administration means by maximum security.

While Mr. Gray said he thought the county was planning #F individual cells for violent offenders, he found plans for a dormitory arrangement in which guards would be housed in an enclosed cage.

"If some inmates are violent and dangerous, it is not only the guards but the other inmates who need protection," Mr. Gray said.

An open dormitory with special protection for guards is not maximum but minimum security and should have been included in the design in the first place, Mr. Gray said.

He said the county does not need a maximum security prison with individual cells and would oppose any such idea here.

"If the inmates are as dangerous as [Mr. Rollins] says they are, they don't need to be in our detention center, they need to be in a state facility," Mr. Gray said.

"We don't want to move toward a facility that would serve as an inducement [to state or federal agencies] to have violent criminals serve their sentences here," he said.

"It portends, induces, and entices the housing of violent criminals for four, five, and six years, rather than as a holding facility" for people awaiting trial.

Mr. Gray wants to trim the request by $224,000. He contends the security system the corrections department is asking for will cost only $286,000.

While Mr. Rollins agrees that it will cost $286,000 to upgrade one of the buildings from minimum to maximum security, additional money is needed for television control monitors, a special key system that would allow guards to respond more quickly in an emergency, and a reserve fund for contingencies, he said.

Mr. Rollins also said the facility cannot house violent criminals for more than 18 months and still receive payment from the state. Judges are aware of that and make sure that no one is confined to there for a longer period, he said.

Mr. Gray will be out of town and unable to attend tonight's meeting, and council members are unlikely to take action on the proposal because they have not discussed the bill in a public work session.

The appropriations bill is one of 29 pieces of legislation scheduled for a vote at tonight's meeting.

Included among that legislation are bills that would amend various sections of the code to make it conform to new zoning regulations, provide for an ex-officio youth member on the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Board, and create a temporary committee of public school students to offer ideas and %o suggestions to the newly created Cemetery Preservation and Advisory Board.

The council will also vote on appointees to various boards and commissions: Rosemary Mortimer to the Compensation Review Commission, William E. Saunders to the Fire and Rescue Services Board, Robert E. Johnson to the Human Rights Commission, Alvin Meckler to the Mental Health Advisory Board and Cristi J. Cohn and Betty Harries to the Commission for Women.

Ms. Cohn and Ms. Harries are already members of the commission and were nominated by the county executive to serve another term.

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