Tour to show off jail improvements

Arundel detention center on Jennifer Road getting $27 million in work

January 05, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A ceremony today at the Jennifer Road detention center is expected to pack some shock value.

The last time a large entourage of Anne Arundel County officials toured the detention center in Annapolis a couple years ago, they saw inmates double-bunked in crowded cells. Industrial fans circulated air that faintly smelled of lemon-scented cleanser and urine. Workers were processing records out of a storage closet.

Today, with the $27 million renovation and construction of an addition almost finished, officials including County Executive Janet S. Owens, council members, prosecutors and judges will get a glimpse of bright new cells.

Owens said yesterday that the old center "was dark, dingy and lacking decent facilities. It looked like a Third World country."

Although some areas are still surrounded by bulldozers and under construction, the tour will include the new processing center that is triple the size of the old intake area to better handle the 11,000 inmates who are processed each year at the center.

The new center has distinct areas where inmates will enter the detention center and where inmates are released. Soon, offices will occupy office spaces.

"It's a pretty stark contrast," said Robin R. Harting, Jennifer Road correctional facility administrator, previewing what county officials will see this afternoon at an opening ceremony. "We've literally had to use every nook and cranny, from crawl spaces to storage closets."

It will be another month before the transfer of inmates to the new housing units in the addition starts and until booking, receiving and the new visitation areas are opened. The project is expected to be complete in June.

In the end, the county will have enough room to segregate certain inmates from the general population, which is housed in dorm-style cells. There will be 730 beds in all, about the capacity before parts of the detention center were closed for the construction, which began two years ago.

The center has about 440 inmates, nearly all of whom are awaiting trials or sentencing.

"What we lacked was not number of beds but specific types of beds," said the detention center's superintendent, Richard J. Baker, who oversees both county jails.

Not enough single cells were available to separate inmates who need to be in protective custody or in administrative segregation for behavioral or psychological reasons, he said. Twenty inmates share dorm cells that by today's standards should house 14 inmates. That standard will be met when the project is complete, he said.

By the late 1980s, the detention center's population had grown from 200 to nearly 900, including pretrial inmates and those serving sentences up to 18 months. The Ordnance Road detention center in Glen Burnie relieved some crowding when it was built in 1998, primarily to house inmates serving their sentences. But there still wasn't enough space, Baker said.

When the project at Jennifer Road is complete, the county will have about 1,290 beds for inmates, 730 at Jennifer Road and 560 at Ordinance Road.

Space will be available for inmate programs and staff development, which correction experts say are keys to a safe operation.

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