Calling for a stakeout and rounding up posse Tents: Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown says inmates will be jailed outside and guarded by unarmed volunteers.

November 14, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer James M. Coram contributed to this article.

Carroll County Sheriff John H. Brown says he has a different way of easing overcrowding at his jail.

He's ordered a batch of tents.

And he's asking for a posse of volunteers to help guard the tent city for 60 minimum-security prisoners.

Brown said yesterday that chronic crowding at the 120-bed facility calls for drastic measures. He plans to erect tents and install portable toilets in a 15-by-150-foot fenced courtyard outside the jail -- even if he has to pay for the tents himself.

The flamboyant Brown, who carries a pearl-handled pistol in his waistband, was roundly criticized when a local newspaper carried a photograph of the sheriff holding a gun to the head of a handcuffed suspect during a 1996 drug raid.

Brown said that the Sept. 22 suicide of an inmate and another prisoner's attempted suicide about a month later are clear signs that overcrowding is serious.

"I have ordered the tents and expect to have them up within two weeks," Brown said. Brown said he would look into buying heaters for the tents.

Meanwhile, Brown said, he plans to distribute and publish a flier asking volunteers to join an unarmed posse to assist county Detention Center guards when the jail's population swells to as many as 170 inmates.

The flier reads: "Sheriff John H. Brown is forming a posse of volunteers to aid in preserving and keeping the peace in and around the Carroll County Detention Center."

Donald Jones, executive director for the Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards, said that he had not heard of the proposed tent city and posse, but that his agency would look hard at an attempt to move inmates outdoors.

"Our commission is mandated by law to protect the life, health, safety and constitutional rights of all prisoners" within the state, Jones said.

Jones said he was unsure of the legality of Brown's proposal. He said he would be concerned if anyone not trained by the Maryland Police and Training Commission were used to guard inmates.

Brown insisted that formation of a posse is legal.

Susan Goering, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she felt "incredible sympathy" for Brown. Crowding in prisons and jails is a problem everywhere because not enough attention is given to alternatives, she said.

"We see prisoners all over the state who serve time awaiting trial and are never convicted of a crime," Goering said.

She said Brown's plan to have inmates live in tents "sounds questionable." She urged that county officials step back and consider the prospect of inmates with frostbite, or a fire caused by a faulty heater in a tent.

Brown's proposal is not without precedent. Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Ariz., has drawn national attention -- and criticism -- for using tents for prisoners who are awaiting trial or who are serving sentences of one

year or less.

Arpaio, 65, a former agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who once served an assignment in Baltimore, also has formed a posse of 3,000, including 900 volunteers who )) are armed.

He recently ran unopposed for re-election and has a 93 percent approval rating among Arizona voters.

Arpaio has placed his tents near the dump, the dog pound and the waste disposal plant and required prisoners to wear pink underwear. He also banned cigarettes, coffee, soft drinks and movies.

Yesterday, Carroll County's three commissioners said they were skeptical that Brown would go through with the more modest Carroll plan. Nevertheless, they approved $130,000 to allow the sheriff to add a secretary and 12 correctional officers to his staff.

"He's made a lot of threats in the past," said County Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "I wouldn't be surprised if he did it, but I doubt that he will."

Richard T. Yates said he thinks the new hires "will assuage the sheriff's thinking," but finds the tent and posse proposal "innovative."

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who is not related to the sheriff, opposes the whole idea. He is concerned about the safety of people on the two public streets adjoining the jail, HTC noting that the sheriff recently said he wanted to patrol the area with shotguns.

"I much prefer having inmates locked down in a secure facility" to their being housed in tents in the open, he said.

If the Detention Center cannot house all of its inmates, the overflow should be transferred to Baltimore or Howard County on a temporary basis, Commissioner Brown said.

But Sheriff Brown said he has looked at alternatives and hasn't liked his choices. If he could find nearby county jails with enough room to take Carroll's overflow, he said, it would cost $20,000 each for 70 inmates to be housed elsewhere, not including medical and transportation costs.

"That would cost $1.4 million for the year and I'm not going to do it," the sheriff said.

Yates agreed: "We don't want to spend that money. In the meantime, the sheriff has to do whatever is necessary to meet his responsibility."

Text of flier

"Sheriff John H. Brown is forming a posse of volunteers to aid in preserving and keeping the peace in and around the Carroll County Detention Center.

"Individuals must pass a criminal background check and be at least 18 years of age. Law enforcement or military experience is preferred but not necessary.

"Interested and concerned citizens should contact Sheriff John Brown at the Carroll County Sheriff's Office at 410-848-9666.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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