Plans for bigger county jail become priority for officials

September 09, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is stepping up plans for a new jail, with the expected hiring of consultants to determine how badly a new jail is needed, its potential cost and size, and how much acreage would be required.

Carter Goble Associates Inc. of Columbia, S.C., is to spend three to four months conducting the $121,000 study, which will update a 1995 study of inmate population trends, security needs and building requirements, according to county officials. They plan to submit the contract to the County Council at its meeting Oct. 4.

The 1995 study found that the county was in need of a 1,680-bed facility that would cost $140 million, take up 50 acres and require a 500,000-square-foot building. However, because officials did not see an immediate need for a new jail at the time, the county did not act on the study's recommendations.

But officials say the county's needs probably have changed since 1995.

"We really do need to update that study and look at all the numbers," said Dorothy Williams, administrator of the Baltimore County Bureau of Corrections.

County officials say that they hope the state will fund 75 percent of the jail's cost; that was the state's share of the cost for the county's 5-year-old Detention Center Annex on Kenilworth Avenue. County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger tentatively plans to seek a ballot initiative in the 2000 election asking voters to approve bond money to cover the remaining 25 percent of the costs.

If these plans become a reality, a jail could open in 2004 or 2005.

County officials have warned for years that they need to replace the complex of aging jail facilities -- some going back to the 1850s -- and supplement the Detention Center built in 1981 and the annex built in 1994. The complex in Towson, designed to hold 965 inmates, houses about 1,200, and the inmate population has doubled over the past 10 years. The inmate population yesterday was 1,234.

The complex includes two facilities where high-security inmates are housed: the Detention Center and an annex on Kenilworth Avenue. A group of buildings on Courthouse Court includes the Women's Detention Center and trailers that house work-release facilities.

Along with coming up with the money, the thorniest issue may be finding a site for the jail. Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Republican from Towson, said that residents living near the Courthouse Court complex are eager to see the aging structures shut down.

"The question is, where can you put a jail in Towson?" he added. "We're kind of built out."

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