Jail Circus Returns

February 02, 1994

The Anne Arundel County Council once more is turning its attention to a site for a new county jail -- a prospect as frightening as it is necessary.

Overcrowding and deplorable conditions make the existing detention center on Jennifer Road in Parole a time bomb. State lawmakers won't approve money for a new jail until council members settle on a location, so in that sense we are glad to see them tackling this issue. The problem is, they have tackled it umpteen times over the last three years, and each time have acted like politically craven wimps. Both the council and state lawmakers have been less concerned with the merit of various sites than with finding one that will make the fewest voters mad. Every time some of them manage to build a consensus, somebody else collapses like a leaky balloon when the going gets rough.

The signs are not good that the latest chapter in this saga will turn out any differently. Council members David G. Boschert, Virginia P. Clagett and Maureen Lamb -- all of whom voted against building a jail off New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie at one time or another -- now support that location for a pre-release center; serious offenders would remain at Jennifer Road. Not surprisingly, the North County contingent of George Bachman, Ed Middlebrooks and Carl G. "Dutch" Holland is not pleased. To get even, they are resurrecting the idea of a site near Crownsville State Hospital.

At this point, we are less concerned with which is the better site than with elected leaders' ability to stand behind either one of them. They are both decent locations; both have pluses and minuses. The same holds true, for that matter, for the Millersville site recommended by an advisory committee but avoided like the plague by politicians, presumably because they don't want to get on the wrong side of the influential Shipley's Choice community. The point is that citizens will fight even a perfect location, especially now that they have learned that fighting works.

Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, who holds the deciding vote, is right: lawmakers need the fortitude to stick with whatever decision they make. The jail problem should be dealt with during this General Assembly session. But if this council doesn't have the guts to see this matter through, we may as well wait and hope that, come November, voters will elect one that does.

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