Dundalk prison proposal dropped

Concerns of residents, officials caused company to withdraw federal plan

January 06, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Pointing to fierce public opposition, a private prison management firm has dropped its proposal to build a maximum-security federal prison in eastern Baltimore County.

County officials had worked with U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to derail the plan for the 1,750-bed prison on Sollers Point in Dundalk. The proposal by Correctional Services Corp. also came under attack from residents, who said it would have dealt a crippling blow to efforts to revitalize the area.

Yesterday, community activists and elected officials hailed the company's decision as a "huge victory."

"We certainly don't need that in our community here. We're trying to revitalize our community, and that wouldn't be an improvement," said Richard W. McJilton, president of the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce. "Very good news."

County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., who represents Dundalk, praised the cooperative effort to defeat the plan for the prison. "The will and voice of the people were heard," he said. "It's refreshing to know our democracy still works and the people are the ones who count."

Last month, Mikulski, Ruppersberger and other state and local officials held a rally in Turners Station, a historic black community adjacent to the proposed prison site, and vowed to fight the plan. Three days later, on Dec. 22, Correctional Services Corp. President and CEO James F. Slattery wrote to the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee - a division of the Justice Department that oversees privately run prisons - that it had learned of local concerns and would look for other sites.

"While CSC is very interested in participating in the competitive process for this project, we feel that it is in the best interests of both the community and the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee for CSC to withdraw this site," Slattery wrote.

Two other private corrections companies have offered plans for federal prisons in Brandywine, East Gate and Cheltenham in Prince George's County. In his letter, Slattery said that CSC is looking for another site, though he didn't say whether that location would be in Maryland.

Ruppersberger has filed legislation in Congress that would prohibit the Justice Department from building a prison in eastern Baltimore County or at the three Prince George's sites. Mikulski also offered legislation that would have blocked the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee from building a facility in Maryland.

"The residents stood together, spoke out against the plan, and their voices were heard," Mikulski said in a prepared statement. "But there is more work to be done. CSC is now looking for another location, and the Justice Department is still looking at three sites in Prince George's County.

"I will keep fighting to permanently stop this ill-advised plan. No Maryland community should have 1,700 dangerous prisoners dumped in their neighborhood."

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who has worked to expand the efforts of his predecessor, Ruppersberger, to revitalize the east side, said he couldn't be more pleased with the news.

Two years ago, urban designers from around the nation conducted intensive planning meetings for the Dundalk area that focused on linking the historic steel-producing community to Baltimore and taking advantage of its waterfront.

A key component of the plan was a proposal to build a cruise ship terminal, hotels, a sports arena and homes on Sollers Point.

"A prison wasn't exactly what we all had in mind for the renaissance of Dundalk," Smith said yesterday.

Cheryl Brooks, a Chase Elementary School teacher and lifelong Turners Station resident, said she was elated at the news.

"We don't need that kind of facility in our community," she said.

Sun staff writers Jonathan D. Rockoff and Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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