Don't re-open jail issue Time to press on with permanent addition, not revisit modular idea.

September 24, 1996

CARROLL COUNTY needs a larger jail to hold its growing inmate population. It has for at least five years, since the public debate began in earnest on how best to build that facility.

After several proposals, varying cost estimates and bids that far exceeded the projected cost, the county's Board of Commissioners voted in May 1995 to expand the existing detention center to hold 92 additional inmates, for a total of 228 beds. The estimate was $4.8 million, with the state expected to pay half.

Since then, the price has escalated to more than $6 million, partly as a result of changes in design required by the state and partly due to renovations made by the county (to increase low-security capacity by 20 beds).

Construction bids won't be advertised until next year, it now appears, as the state reviews the latest design and considers a petition from Carroll to increase Maryland's share to cover the higher estimated cost.

Now Commissioner Donald I. Dell wants to reopen the entire issue, again advancing his favorite idea to build modular cells that he claims may save as much as $2 million. Mr. Dell suggests that this less-expensive type of construction be used for an addition to the current facility, on North Court Street in Westminster.

But jail officials don't believe the modular cell plan is a good one. Neither do commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates, who voted for the bricks and mortar expansion. Sheriff John Brown also has expressed doubts that the modular savings would be as great as Mr. Dell says.

A tour of Montgomery County's modular cell facility by Carroll officials last year turned up some troubling construction flaws that could compromise security and lead to costly repairs.

Mr. Brown also thought the Montgomery jail was ugly. Which led to Commissioner Dell's pointed rejoinder: "It's kind of interesting we want to put our students in modulars (classrooms), but they're too crappy for prisoners."

But the design process and negotiations with the state have reached a critical point, and should go forward without delay. The county shouldn't waste more time in reconsidering an approach that has been rejected by two boards of commissioners. The jail is overcrowded now. That situation will only get worse.

Pub Date: 9/24/96

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