Solving Jail Overcrowding

June 23, 1994

If the Carroll County commissioners don't follow the recommendation of newly hired jail warden Mason W. Waters to junk their plan for a modular addition to the jail in Westminster, they will be making a big mistake. Mr. Waters has suggested that instead of constructing a modular addition, a staff training room at the facility should be converted into a 24-bed dormitory for work-release inmates.

The commissioners have to recognize they have two problems that need to be addressed -- short-term and long-term overcrowding. Mr. Waters' suggestion to convert a training room to house low-risk, work-release inmates makes sense as a temporary answer to the current overcrowding.

At the moment, the county is courting disaster. Too many prisoners creates problems for inmates and guards. When men are housed in gyms, hallways and common rooms, security is compromised. Every human being -- even those awaiting trial or convicted of crimes -- needs to have some space. Packing men together produces tension, aggravation and the potential for fights, even riots.

We have opposed the modular addition in the past because it is not a cost-efficient way of solving the persistent overcrowding at the county detention center. The modular addition favored by the commissioners would be an expensive stop-gap answer at best. They must begin thinking about making substantial additions -- 100 beds or more -- to the current jail or building a new one elsewhere in the county.

The commissioners have been under the mistaken impression that the modular addition will solve the population problems at the jail. Although a modular unit costs less than the 80-bed add-on that the commissioners deemed too expensive, one unit will not be sufficient even for the short run. The jail has been holding up to 150 inmates, 30 more than capacity. A modular unit holds 24.

With the population continuing to grow in Carroll County, the commissioners must begin thinking in terms of a 200-bed jail. Considering that such a large building would overwhelm the current site, the county's leaders must develop plans for a new site for an entirely new building. To solve their short-term problem, however, they should heed Mr. Waters' suggestion and junk their plans for a modular add-on to the existing jail.

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