City gets new, $52 million landmark

May 09, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore's newest landmark doesn't have the allure of a baseball stadium or the glitter of a shopping mall, but it does have windows for 811 residents who will soon be spending time waiting for justice to be served.

Welcome to the Baltimore City Detention Center central booking unit, rising in the shadow of the Jones Falls Expressway and scheduled to open in July 1995 after two years and $52 million worth of construction.

"We wanted to express the fact that this is residential," said Jim Kessler, design team leader and an architect with HOK, the firm that designed one of Baltimore's other landmarks, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"These are individuals in here. They are not anonymous. They are being treated fairly and judiciously. It is extremely secure. People will feel safe when they drive by."

The central booking unit is the the jewel in Maryland's prison construction program, a 10-year, $550 million effort to add 11,500 beds to a crowded system.

Currently, Maryland's Public Safety and Correctional Services agency oversees 20,533 inmates at state facilities, plus another 3,000 in the Baltimore city jail system.

From Jessup to Cumberland the state is attempting to open prison beds as fast as it can. But even after the construction program ends sometime in 1996 with the opening of the 1,300-bed Western Correction Facility in Cumberland, Maryland will still be short of prison space.

"What is going to stop the building is the ability to pay for it," said David Bezanson, deputy secretary in charge of construction.

But Bishop L. Robinson, who heads Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that prison building, though an essential component in law enforcement, cannot stop crime.

"What do you want to do, incapacitate the entire population?" he said.

Mr. Robinson, like many of his counterparts in corrections, said the origins of crime must be dealt with.

Instead of discussing prison bed space, he prefers to talk of drugs, teen pregnancy and school drop-out rates, and the impact those issues have on the nation's youth.

"We have to stop growing criminals and start building character," he said.

But the state is prepared to house those who break the law.

Officials are delighted to show off the 21st-century-style central booking unit, the entry point in the Baltimore city criminal justice system. The building sits at the western edge of the vast downtown correctional complex that is anchored by the 19th-century, Gothic-style administration building of the Maryland State Penitentiary.

Here, newly arrested individuals will be taken through each step of the booking process, their every movement monitored as they wear bracelets with bar codes.

Records will be computerized, fingerprints scanned live to a central facility in Pikesville and inmates funneled to the court commissioners who set bail.

The offenders of the future won't even have to be transferred to court for bail hearings. The court will come to them via video teleconference.

And, yes, for those who will be staying more than a few hours at the central booking unit, there is a window in every cell.

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