Boot camp move idea clings to life

March 24, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

When Gov. William Donald Schaefer gave up on moving the state prison boot camp from Jessup to Fort Meade four months ago, critics from Congress to the local community association thought they had won.

Not quite. While the governor's spokeswoman, Page Boinest, stresses it is unlikely that Mr. Schaefer will try to move the boot camp to Fort Meade, she said her boss will not send a letter to the Pentagon to officially end the quest.

"We have not formerly withdrawn that as a site," Ms. Boinest said. "You can read what you want into that. Maybe the situation will change and we can open it up again. Maybe somebody will have a change of heart. It is not a hot option today."

Depending on which Army official at the Pentagon addresses the issue, the boot camp proposal is either dead or in limbo, its file sitting on a shelf simply waiting to be reactivated.

What is clear is that Mr. Schaefer cannot touch the issue until after Sept. 30, when a military funding bill expires along with an amendment sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat. The amendment forbids using federal money to move the camp to Fort Meade. The governor pulled his proposal after the amendment passed Congress, delighting opponents who had fought the proposal for months.

The state wanted the move to make room for women prisoners at its crowded complex in Jessup and to expand the boot camp's capacity from 265 inmates to 500. Prisoners were to be housed in renovated World War II barracks. In exchange, Fort Meade would have received 2,000 hours of free inmate labor a week. Mr. Schaefer also has proposed moving the boot camp to Tipton Army Airfield, which the Army must dispose of by September 1995. Anne Arundel County is interested in using the site for a general aviation airport.

Both proposals must be submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore. Officials say that will be done in the summer or in the fall, after federal agencies review the site.

State Del. John Gary Jr., who led the fight against the boot camp and threatened to cut off funds for state prison projects if Mr. Schaefer did not withdraw his proposal, said he believes the issue is dead at both military sites.

Mr. Gary, a Millersville Republican, said Bishop L. Robinson, Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services, told him the Fort Meade proposal "is no longer an option," though he added, "the governor has never said that."

He also accused state officials of keeping the issue alive so they can have "leverage against guys like us." However, he said he does not believe Mr. Schaefer will revive the issue.

"Corrections officials told me that they had decided not to move it to Fort Meade," he said. "But they may be telling me that because we're still in session."

Ms. Boinest said the governor does not want to sever ties with the Army because he does not want to give up the potential to gain federal land. "We have nothing to lose by keeping it open," she said.

Though Fort Meade supported the proposal, the final decision comes from the Pentagon.

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