Schaefer is intent on moving prison boot camp to Tipton Army Airfield

November 25, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, apparently intent on moving the state prison boot camp to the Tipton Army Airfield, has asked President Bill Clinton to expedite the transfer of the federal land to the state.

In a two-page letter sent to Mr. Clinton yesterday, Mr. Schaefer wrote that "I know you are serious about making boot camps a priority in your crime package and I hope you will help me."

Mr. Schaefer first discussed the Herman J. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp with Mr. Clinton in August, when the two men met privately during an event at the University of Maryland, College Park.

At that time, Mr. Schaefer wanted to move the boot camp to a site on the northern edge of Fort Meade, an idea that was torpedoed by the local congressional delegation because of fierce community opposition.

"The president actually raised it with the governor," said Page Boinest, a spokeswoman for Mr. Schaefer.

During the meeting, "the first issue he raised was, 'I hear you have a boot camp you want to locate on a federal facility.' "

Corrections officials say the boot camp must be move from Jessup if it is to expand to 500 inmates from its present capacity of 265 and accommodate a facility for female prisoners.

After the Fort Meade site was rejected, Mr. Schaefer chose as his alternate location Tipton airfield, which has been declared surplus and must be disposed of by September 1995.

In his letter to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Schaefer stressed that unlike his original choice, which was across the road from a major residential development, Tipton is buffered by woodlands.

Mr. Schaefer's letter also touted a proposed driver-training facility, to be operated by the state's Police and Correctional Training commissions, that would offer specialized instruction to local, state and federal law-enforcement officers.

"I believe the combined use, with the law-enforcement presence afforded by the driver-training facility, will go a long way to addressing any safety concerns of residents," the governor said.

Mr. Schaefer also noted that the airport has several large aircraft hangars, support buildings, two towers and a fire station that could all be converted for use in the boot camp. Labor from the boot camp inmates would be used to convert the facility.

"We ask that the property be turned over to Maryland for use as a boot camp and driver-training facility," Mr. Schaefer wrote. "The process, as you know, can be lengthy. Please help us expedite this request."

Army officials in charge of transferring the surplus property said earlier this week that they have not been contacted by the state. Only the county, which has expressed interest in making Tipton a privately run airport for noncommercial pilots, has been in contact.

Ms. Boinest said state officials will talk to the Army soon. "The groundwork for this is being laid right now," she said.

Gerry Bresee, a realty specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers who is handling the transfer of Tipton, said the Army would like to see the airfield remain so two reserve units stationed there would not have to be transferred.

"The reserves would like to stay there and we're going to try and work out an agreement so the reserves who are there now can stay there," Mr. Bresee said.

The federal government would lease space from the new owner of the airport, an arrangement that would clearly favor the county's proposal.

Mr. Schaefer met with congressional representatives last week and discussions with local officials are planned.

But that apparently won't be enough to head off opposition from some lawmakers.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer wrote to Mr. Schaefer Tuesday, asking that he consider sites outside Jessup and Anne Arundel for the boot camp and women's prison.

Mr. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat, blocked the first Fort Meade site when he co-sponsored with Rep. Helen D. Bentley an amendment to a military construction bill that prohibited the use of any federal money to relocate the camp to the Army base.

"One of the problems has been that there has been no effort by the state to identify alternative sites for consideration that I am aware of," Mr. Hoyer wrote.

"I believe that it is important to examine more rural and secluded locations for such facilities, as well as regions of our state that do not now carry their fair share in terms of housing prison populations."

However, Ms. Boinest said the boot camp must be in an urban area so that inmates can get to their jobs at places such as the State House and highways for litter pickup.

Del. Marsha Perry, a Crofton Democrat active in the fight against the Fort Meade site, said she was annoyed to learn in the newspaper of the governor's latest proposal. She noted that several local commissions, some of which she has served on, have spent years studying what should be done with the airfield. "These are local people and it's to these [people] Governor Schaefer should be looking, not to President Clinton," she said.

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