2 Arundel senators assail jail estimates

February 14, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Northern Anne Arundel County state senators Philip C. Jimeno and Michael J. Wagner, joining forces to block construction of a jail in Glen Burnie, say they may have come up with some new ammunition.

Contrary to projections contained in a consultant's report that showed steadily increasing numbers of inmates in the coming years, Mr. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, and Mr. Wagner, D-Ferndale contend recent figures show the jail's inmate population has declined.

Those figures are enough, they maintain, to warrant a delay in the project, certainly until after this year's General Assembly session.

The average daily population at the jail for the last six months of 1993 was down by an average of 74 inmates compared to the last six months of 1992, they said.

For example, in November an average of 577 inmates were in the detention center, compared with an average of 682 who were incarcerated in November 1992.

In December, typically a slow month at the jail, there was an average of 554 inmates, compared with the previous December's average of 623.

The jail has a capacity of 750 if every bed is filled. Its capacity would be 563 inmates if the stricter state standards were used.

"The population is not increasing," Mr. Wagner said. "I thought it was rather surprising."

Mr. Jimeno said it would not be fair for the state to divert money from school construction, its priority this session, to fund a jail that may or may not be needed.

"We have so much on the plate," he said. "What do you want us to take off our plate so we can fund a new detention center?"

The projections for inmate population come from a 1990 detention center master plan written by Carter Goble Associates of Washington, D.C. That study indicated Anne Arundel would ** need space for 779 prisoners by 1993, 1,170 prisoners by 2000 and 1,728 inmates in 2010.

Based on those projections, the county had planned on building a three-phase, $71 million expansion of the detention center on Jennifer Road near Annapolis that would house 1,200 inmates. That plan was scuttled when Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he would not allow state funding for any jail in Annapolis.

The County Council is scheduled to hear two resolutions on Feb. 22, one to build a jail in Glen Burnie and the other, introduced by three North County councilmen, to put a jail on the grounds of the state mental hospital in Crownsville.

But Mr. Jimeno and Mr. Wagner said the county should slow down and figure out exactly what kind of corrections system it really needs.

"If you're looking to spend this kind of money, you need better projections," Mr. Jimeno said.

Mr. Wagner is a recent convert to the forces opposing a resolution that would renovate the detention center on Jennifer Road near Annapolis and build a second jail on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. He previously supported building a jail in Glen Burnie and says he still thinks it is a good use for the land.

"Sometimes, you have to rise above principle," he joked. "The community simply doesn't want it there and I represent the community."

Mr. Wagner said he, too, was surprised when he saw that the detention center population had gone down. He had assumed the numbers were up and the jail was busting at the seams.

County criminal justice officials said there are two reasons why the jail population is down. The first is that judges are no longer routinely sending parents who are delinquent in paying child support to jail, instead assigning them to the county's Responsible Parents Program, where they receive counseling, training and assistance in finding a job.

Public Defender Alan Friedman, who sought the ruling that freed delinquent fathers from jail in December 1992, said the Responsible Parents Program has saved the county about $373,000, calculated at $52.30 per day per inmate, since it began about a year ago. A little more than 7,100 days in jail time were avoided.

At any one time, 50 people are enrolled in program.

"And for the most part, these are people who would have gone to jail, who would have been a burden on the taxpayer," Mr. Friedman said.

The second reason for the decreased population is that the public defender's office has an attorney stationed at the detention center who is able to dramatically reduce the amount of time many inmates spend there before they go to trial.

Mr. Friedman estimates 15 to 20 fewer people are in jail per day because of the public defender's Inmate Services project.

The programs have reduced the pressure on the jail, but their effect may help delay badly needed renovations. Detention Center Superintendent Richard Baker pointed out that his support system -- kitchen, administrative offices, and meeting and counseling room space -- was designed for a jail housing only 200 inmates.

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