The New Jail Fight: Lots Of Hard Time

COMMENT

February 20, 1994|By ELISE ARMACOST

The other night CNN sports anchor Nick Charles called the Tonya-Nancy potboiler "the story that will not end." He obviously doesn't know about Anne Arundel County's quest for a place to build a new jail, otherwise known as "The Hundred Years War."

At least, it feels like a century has gone by since this tale began. Can it really be that it has been just a little more than two years?

Yes indeed, two years and five angry hearings, four County Council resolutions, two council votes, two state Senate votes, at least nine proposed sites, a task force, an environmental crisis, an interfering governor and enough studies and statistics to choke Godzilla. All this, and guess what? The county is right back where it was in January 1992, arguing over a hunk of land on Glen Burnie's New Ordnance Road, with no resolution in sight.

Memo to the council and others to whom it may concern: This is getting embarrassing.

Siting a jail is never easy. But officials in the public safety business, both at the state level and in other counties, say they have never seen the process as dragged out, twisted and tortured as it has been here. They say they have never seen such a lack of political will.

How bad has it been? Here at The Sun, we recently compiled a chronology of the county's jail travails. Read it and weep:

* January 1992: Word leaks out that County Executive Bobby Neall wants to build an $80 million, 650-bed detention center on a piece of county-owned land on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. He submits a resolution seeking council approval of the site.

* February 1992: North County residents descend on Glen Burnie High School for a public hearing to say Glen Burnie is the wrong place for a jail.

* March 16, 1992: The council votes against building at New Ordnance Road.

* April 1-2, 1992: Mr. Neall asks the state Senate for design money for the jail. The Senate votes twice, coming up with the same verdict each time: "No site, no dough."

* May 29, 1992: At Mr. Neall's request, the council approves $100,000 to fund a panel to study correctional needs and recommend a site for a new detention center.

* August 1992: The detention center task force convenes. It immediately resurrects all earlier proposed sites, eventually narrowing the field to sites in Millersville, Crownsville, Davidsonville and Pasadena.

* Oct. 7, 1992: The task force nixes New Ordnance Road because it may be contaminated with radiation from the operations of a former Army depot there.

* Oct. 14, 1992: Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold, who wanted the jail on New Ordnance Road, resigns from the task force.

* Oct. 22, 1992: The task force holds a public hearing on the four proposed sites. About 1,000 people from Millersville, Crownsville, Davidsonville and Pasadena descend on Glen Burnie High School to say their communities are no places for a jail.

* Oct. 28, 1992: And the winner is . . . Millersville!

* Nov. 4, 1992: More than 1,000 angry Millersville residents rally at Old Mill High School to say Millersville is no place for a jail.

* Nov. 10, 1992: At a work session attended by 500 residents, the County Council compiles yet another list of potential jail sites. The list includes the existing detention center on Jennifer Road near Annapolis.

* Nov. 16, 1992: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announces that the New Ordnance Road property is, indeed, radioactive.

* Nov. 18, 1992: The council votes to build the jail on Jennifer Road.

* April 1993: The Civic Associations of Annapolis band together to ward off expansion at Jennifer Road.

* April 1993: Mr. Neall announces plans to expand on Jennifer Road.

* May 27, 1993: The council approves a capital budget including money to start the Jennifer Road expansion.

* Oct 12, 1993: Annapolis residents descend on the Anne Arundel Medical Center to say Jennifer Road is no place for a jail that's any bigger than the one already there.

* Oct. 22, 1993: At the request of, or perhaps as a favor to Annapolis Mayor Al Hopkins, who is running for re-election, Gov. William Donald Schaefer does something he has never done before: intervene in a local jail dispute. He promises the state won't contribute one cent toward expanding Jennifer Road.

* Jan. 24, 1994: Council members Maureen Lamb, David Boschert and Virginia Clagett introduce Resolution No. 3. It calls for renovation of (but no addition to) the jail on Jennifer Road and construction of a new jail on New Ordnance Road.

* Feb. 7, 1994: North County Councilmen Ed Middlebrooks, George Bachman and Dutch Holland counter with Resolution No. 4, urging part of the Crownsville State Hospital property as a site for a new detention center.

* Feb. 10, 1994: North County Senators Philip Jimeno and Mike Wagner say figures show the jail population is not rising as much as predicted. Mr. Wagner, who had supported the New Ordnance Road site, now opposes it.

That brings us up to date. But don't think this is the end. Tuesday night, folks from North County and Crownsville will descend on the council for hearings on the dueling resolutions. No one knows what will happen after that -- except that it will

keep happening for a long time.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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