End Anne Arundel's jail war

March 22, 1994

For two years, Anne Arundel County has been torn apart over where to build a new detention center. It is time for the fighting to stop.

Last week, the County Council fulfilled its obligation to choose a site, deciding on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. Predictably, the vote broke along geographic lines, 4-3, with North County lawmakers opposing, but a choice was made and should be stuck to. This unpopular but necessary project has bounced from community to community too long already because elected leaders have not had the courage to put the good of the county above parochial interests.

It may be hard to fault North County lawmakers for pledging to keep fighting a project their constituents do not want. But prolonging this battle involves serious costs -- the cost of continuing to pit communities against each other, and the cost of letting more time lapse before fixing the insecure conditions at the existing jail on Jennifer Road near Annapolis.

The Ordnance Road site has certain advantages. The county owns it; water, sewer and roads are in place, and it is in the midst of a commercial/industrial area. Also, federal environment officials say radioactive contamination left from its days as an Army depot should be easy to clean up.

This does not make the council's choice easier for North County to swallow, of course. More than any other Anne Arundel community, the North County area suffers from a complex about being a "dumping ground."

But while the area has problems stemming from its proximity to South Baltimore's industrial belt, the county government actually has foisted few unpopular projects on it in recent years. Quite the contrary, it has gotten libraries and school renovations -- and a golf course and sports complex are in the works. North County will not be carrying the corrections burden alone. West County has borne its share for decades. And some sort of renovated jail facility will always exist on Jennifer Road.

The county is not planning to build a medieval dungeon. New designs for detention centers show fairly benign structures. Incidents of neighbors being harmed by escapees or work-relase prisoners are exceedingly rare; the risk of dying in a traffic accident probably is greater.

No one wants a jail, Anne Arundel county needs a new one, and it must go somewhere. It is time now to start accepting the fact that Ordnance Road will be the place.

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