No more delay on jail addition Carroll County: Officials fiddle over cost, details while inmate overcrowding worsens.

November 12, 1997

A JAIL THAT repeatedly holds one-third more inmates than its capacity is seriously overcrowded. A jail addition that is put off for six years of tinkering and revision is seriously delayed -- and nearly three times as costly.

That's the deplorable situation in Carroll County, which has yet to even ask for bids on a jail expansion project that was first designed in 1991. That $2.2 million proposal has ballooned to $6.2 million today.

Judges are wary of sentencing more convicts to work-release at the detention center -- because it requires their overnight housing. Recent prisoner fights, suicide attempts, assaults on guards and an escape plot have highlighted the problem of inadequate staffing and overcrowded facilities.

"Sitting on a time bomb," was how Sheriff John Brown described the overcrowded jail 2 1/2 years ago. He urged immediate action. But the result was more leisurely back-and-forth negotiations between state and county.

Carroll officials dragged their heels in searching for the cheapest solution. The state required numerous changes in county plans, which added greatly to the escalating costs and the delay.

Neither is Mr. Brown blameless, fighting earlier expansion plans in the name of economy, and dithering over jail management decisions. Recognizing the lack of funding, he has not followed through on his threat to house inmates (at great expense) in other jurisdictions, either.

His latest pledges to create a "tent city" to house inmates, and to solicit public donations, have no credibility.

Over the half-dozen years, the size of the hoped-for jail addition has grown by 20 beds to a total of 100 beds. Meantime, the jail gym was converted to house inmates, and expanded pre-trial release efforts helped to ease the strain. Still, as many as 170 inmates are housed in the detention center on a given day -- and this before the typical cold-weather surge of minor offenders seeking shelter.

The county jail needs added staff now, to deal with inmate overcrowding. Construction of the jail addition must begin, without further vacillation and bargaining. Building a jail, typically, is not a politically popular project, but the alternatives are even more unacceptable.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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