Sheriff urges action on jail expansion He says suicide, fights are warning signs crowding is critical

'Enough is enough'

Project was approved, but construction has not begun

November 03, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Sheriff John H. Brown says the detention center has become so overcrowded that he might have to house prisoners in tents or farm them out to other facilities at a daily cost of $50 per person.

Brown said Friday that he may begin taking action today to relieve crowding if the County Commissioners do not heed his warning and push state officials to speed the start of construction of a $6.1 million jail expansion.

The Westminster facility, which was built to house 120, had 164 inmates Friday morning. Nine more weekend prisoners were to report Friday night.

"How many more will be arrested over the weekend and need to be locked up until bail reviews are held [today]?" Brown asked.

The jail census briefly swelled to 175 several months ago, an all-time high, he said.

The situation has been explosive for a long time, but no one is listening, Brown said.

Money for the jail expansion was allocated through the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services with the county paying for half, Brown said.

"It has been approved, so I don't know why construction hasn't begun yet," he said.

A recent suicide and attempted suicide plus at least two fights among inmates are warning signals that crowding has become critical, he said.

Friday evening, an inmate being held in isolation tried to hang himself in his cell with a piece of bedsheet. A 23-year-old man serving an 18-month sentence on a drug conviction was taken to Carroll County General Hospital with neck injuries after deputies cut him down, Brown said.

On Sept. 22, John T. Titus, who was accused of killing his estranged wife last spring, hanged himself in an isolation cell.

Nine correctional officers were on duty that night and three had to be in the jail's control room, Brown said.

"That left six staff members to watch over 151 inmates in nine cellblocks," Brown said.

The next day, Brown said, a correctional officer was injured breaking up a fight.

Last week, another attempted suicide was thwarted by sheriff's deputies and Thursday, an inmate's ear was nearly severed in a brawl with several other inmates.

Brown said he fears a riot or a homicide if he doesn't do something to create more space.

In an Oct. 23 letter to County Commissioners Richard T. Yates, W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell, the sheriff, who is not related to the commissioner, said he was tired of begging for funds for public safety. He said he was particularly dismayed that the commissioners cut $90,260 from his agency's budget Oct. 14.

He said the stated reason for the cut was because the start of the expansion project has been delayed, and money for additional staff and uniforms was deemed "not necessary at this time."

"Let them look down from their ivory tower across the street and see tents in the courtyard, prisoners using [portable toilets] and guards with shotguns above the razor-wire fence," Brown said. "Maybe then they will do something to help out."

The 100-bed expansion will be completed in December 1998 at the earliest, Brown said.

"I can't go tell the judges, 'Please don't send anyone else to jail,' so what am I to do?" he asked. "I'm disgusted. Enough is enough."

Yates said he was sympathetic to the crowding problems facing the sheriff.

"It's a bad situation, and I really don't know what has held up the expansion of the detention center," he said. "The sheriff has the right to be angry, with the prisoner's suicide and his guards being hurt."

Pub Date: 11/03/97

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