Arundel's Continuing Jail Crisis

February 14, 1994

As bad as it is that Anne Arundel County's elected leaders have been unable to decide on a site for a new detention center, at least they have agreed about the need -- until now.

Now state senators Michael J. Wagner, D-Glen Burnie, and Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, are using figures that show the antiquated jail on Jennifer Road outside Annapolis is less crowded than it was a year ago as an excuse for burying this politically explosive issue.

Forget their figures. The fact that the jail population was down by some 70 inmates during the fall (traditionally a slow time for prisons) is irrelevant, especially since the reduction was not the result of fewer arrests.

The sudden change was attributable to two new programs that were introduced to ease overcrowding -- one to keep deadbeat parents out of jail, another to speed inmates through the judicial system.

Those programs created a sudden drop in the jail population. But because arrests keep rising (along with cries to "lock 'em up and throw away the key"), long-term projections that the number of inmates will rise over the next 15 years remain valid, contrary to the senators' assertions.

Even 550 or 560 inmates a day -- the current jail population -- is more than the Jennifer Road facility should be handling. The kitchen, laundry and other support services were designed 27 years ago for 200 inmates. There is no female infirmary and no armory for correctional officers' weapons. Attorneys have to meet with clients in a ridiculous little room with a glass partition BTC down the middle; they can't even pass papers back and forth.

But the worst thing about the jail on Jennifer Road is that there are no cells, or at least very few. The 28 worst characters get a cell of their own. Everybody else gets put in a dormitory. Dorms designed for eight people now routinely hold 24 maximum-security inmates.

This is poor security, plain and simple. The situation lends itself to prisoner assaults and general prison violence.

Senators Wagner and Jimeno do not want a new jail on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie, for obvious reasons. No politician wants a jail in his or her district.

But we do fault them for painting a false picture for Anne Arundel voters of the situation on Jennifer Road. The jail problem is serious and real. It is irresponsible to pretend otherwise.

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