Anne Arundel has space for its inmates, but lacks staff

Several available areas at Annapolis jail unused

March 29, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County has more than enough space at its two detention centers to house criminals sentenced to jail. Especially since last year, when a $15 million renovation and expansion project at the Jennifer Road facility in Annapolis was completed.

So why are inmates at the Glen Burnie jail sleeping on the floor while gleaming new wings at the Annapolis detention center stand empty?

Simple, corrections officials say. They don't have enough staff to open several areas of the Annapolis center, which leads to crowding at the Glen Burnie facility, built less than five years ago on Ordnance Road.

If the new wings were opened to relieve crowding, said Richard J. Baker, superintendent of the county's two detention centers, "you'd have inmates unsupervised, and that's not acceptable."

Anne Arundel County administrators aren't the only ones facing staffing problems. Law enforcement and corrections officials around the region report difficulty recruiting and retaining officers.

At the same time, Anne Arundel facilities, like others, must deal with more and more inmates.

Anne Arundel's problem is different because it has enough space to accommodate the 1,000 or so prisoners typically housed at the two jails. Yet, several dozen inmates often sleep on the floor at the Ordnance Road detention center, especially when offenders serving weekend jail time report.

The population dipped to fewer than 1,000 this year, but "it hasn't really improved," Baker said.

Every weekend, Ordnance Road Administrator Bill Martin and Jennifer Road Administrator Robin Harting play a numbers game, swapping inmates to fill cells in an attempt to avoid setting up what inmates call the "boats," plastic beds that resemble sleds with mattresses inside.

Because most inmates serving weekend sentences report to Glen Burnie, a minimum-security facility, Martin often has to put the temporary beds in dayrooms that are designated for church services, counseling and quiet recreation.

But prayer meetings and card games take second place to ensuring that inmates can be watched, officials say.

Administrators worry that they might soon have to use recreation areas to house prisoners.

Within the next month or so, officials predict, cells will overflow again. "It always peaks in the summer and then peaks again around November," Baker said.

The increase could force Martin to turn the gymnasium at the Glen Burnie jail into a makeshift dormitory on weekends.

The lack of space and staff also means that the drug treatment, education and job training programs the Glen Burnie jail was designed to provide are limited to four of every 10 inmates, Martin said. "The resources aren't adequate," he said. "Even if I could staff the programs, where would I put the people?"

Administrators keep doing what they've been doing: going to every job fair in the region and running large help wanted ads in newspapers and in local movie theaters. A large recruitment billboard over U.S. 50 on the way to Ocean City seeks to attract candidates.

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