Tent of cards Sheriff Brown's new plan for posse, outdoor jail creates high liability.

December 30, 1997

SHERIFF John Brown's plan to erect a tent city at the Carroll County jail and deputize an unarmed volunteer posse to help guard the 60 minimum-security inmates there is another of his ideas that show little thought for the consequences.

Fortunately, the county commissioners are more attuned to reality, and suggest they won't approve funding for an outdoor confinement facility in winter. They are rightly concerned about county liability. Fires from tent heaters, frostbite of inmates, injury to posse volunteers (including 300-pound Baltimore Ravens linemen) and dangers to passers-by from fenced courtyard flare-ups -- these are but a few of the potential liabilities.

Sheriff Brown's stands on increasing jail capacity are ever changing, with little action by him. He turned down a $2.2 million county proposal for an 86-bed addition six years ago. The cost for a 100-bed expansion is now almost three times that amount.

The sheriff then swore to send overflow inmates to jails in other counties, at a cost of more than $20,000 each; he later reneged, saying he didn't want to spend the money.

This fall, he came up with the volunteer posse and a tent city in the jail courtyard. He disbanded his drug task force, but reassigned officers to courthouse duty, not to the jail.

Meantime, county officials are close to final state approval (and partial funding) of the jail addition. And they recently approved money for 13 new sheriff's officers. Sheriff Brown's response: I asked for 22 more guards and they wouldn't give them to me. No one doubts that the 120-bed jail is overcrowded, often with as many as 170 inmates. Mr. Brown says he is only trying to find solutions that stay within budget.

But he has repeatedly shown that his priorities are publicity and provocative rhetoric. The tent city and citizen posse are the latest of his innovations that never materialize. (He's no fan of home-detention systems, although it has been a cost-saver for other jurisdictions.)

The best solution for Carroll County is to get the new jail addition as soon as possible, even if it means spending a few more local dollars to meet state requirements. And Sheriff Brown could make wiser use of staff to increase security at the existing jail, while working closely with the courts to reduce the prisoner intake.

Pub Date: 12/30/97

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