County inmates crowded

September 01, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County's Detention Center population has suddenly increased over the past two months, prompting County Executive Robert R. Neall to call yesterday for moving ahead as quickly as possible on plans for a new jail in Glen Burnie.

Mr. Neall, who is not running for re-election, also took aim at county executive candidates who do not support his plan to build a $27 million minimum-security jail on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie.

"From time to time, I see a comment from people who would like to replace me that we don't have a corrections problem," he said.

Those candidates were not impressed with Mr. Neall's call for a new jail, however.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Neall sat on it for four years looking at figures and couldn't decide what he wanted to do," said Theodore J. Sophocleus, who is running for the Democratic nomination.

H. Erle Schafer, another Democratic candidate, said that a new jail should be built, but that it should be one offering treatment for drug and alcohol problems.

"I still maintain 70 percent of the people in the jail are there for drug- and alcohol-related problems," he said.

Yesterday there were 673 inmates being housed in the Detention Center on Jennifer Road, on the outskirts of Annapolis, and corrections officials said the number likely would top 700 by the weekend.

State officials say the jail's capacity is 600, but jail officials say 763 can be accommodated if every bed is filled and they might be able to squeeze in 800.

"It just points out the fact that we need to move as quickly as we can to add some facilities," Mr. Neall said. "At this rate, if you have the typical roll-up, the jail population could exceed 800 by the time people hit Christmas vacation."

Richard Baker, the Detention Center superintendent, said the population has "gone up dramatically" in the past two months.

As recently as spring, the average daily population at the jail was 550 inmates, Mr. Baker said. Last month, the population averaged 614 and hit a high of 650 one weekend.

Mr. Sophocleus, of Linthicum, insisted the problem is "not the number of people in the Detention Center," but "how we handle the people."

"I haven't seen any evidence that they have done anything to aggressively pursue alternative sentencing," he said.

Mr. Schaefer, of Glen Burnie, argued that the controversy is not "a North County-South County battle," but a question of "what we should build and how we should use it."

The other county executive candidates basically support Mr. Neall's plan.

The Detention Center population has been increasing steadily for years. A consultant hired by the county estimated in 1990 that it would have exceeded 773 prisoners by now. But two events sharply reduced the number of inmates.

In December 1992, a Circuit Court judge released 60 fathers who were being held for nonpayment of child support. Those men have been placed in a program where they receive counseling, training and assistance in finding a job.

Inmate numbers also are down because the public defender's office has an attorney stationed at the jail to expedite casework. Mr. Baker estimates that 25 fewer people are in jail each day because of this program.

State Sens. Philip C. Jimeno and Michael J. Wagner, North County Democrats, used those numbers during the recent General Assembly session to delay state funding for a new jail.

But the county eventually received $1.2 million in leftover bond money to begin designing the jail.

Mr. Wagner now says he thinks Mr. Neall's plan is sound, but Mr. Jimeno is sticking to his guns.

"They're winding down," he said, referring to the last few months of Mr. Neall's term. "Clearly, the issue is in the ballpark of the new county executive, the new County Council and the new state delegation."

Meanwhile, Mr. Baker was breaking out the cots in anticipation of his new guests.

As an example, he points to his work-release dormitory.

"It was built for 86. We have 140 now and I'm putting another 10 beds in there. I'm putting them in the aisles," he said. "As long as I have space, I can add a bed."

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