Study on jail sees big growth

Center's population likely to triple by 2024, it says

Prison alternatives explored

Officials say jail's capacity could be met in two years

Carroll County

August 20, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Although it could be 20 years before the prison population in Carroll County triples, the detention center might be obsolete in two years, a possibility that has county and criminal justice officials thinking about alternatives to locking convicts behind bars.

According to a preliminary prison study report, there could be more than 600 inmates in the local jail population by 2024, said Thomas J. Rio, chief of the county's Bureau of Building Construction and chairman of the committee in charge of exploring the feasibility of a new detention center.

The Carroll County Detention Center can hold 287 inmates. As of yesterday, 244 prisoners were housed at the jail.

County officials believe that the prison population will exceed the jail's capacity by 2006 and commissioned a study in May to consider building a new facility and alternatives to incarceration that might offset prison population growth.

"If you look at the corrections and criminal justice industry, there are alternatives that affect jail populations," said Rio, who described home detention, drug courts and more arrests as factors that could affect prison population.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said the increase in the number of convicts is inevitable given the county's growing population. Aggressive enforcement of alcohol and drug-related offenses, he said, will also continue to push the numbers up.

To keep the number of inmates at a manageable level, officials said, cooperation will be necessary among courthouse personnel, police stations and the jail.

For instance, for home-detention or drug-treatment programs to shoulder more of the load, judges would need to impose more of those sentences.

George Giese, head of the county's Department of Social Services, said he hopes the county looks at all the alternatives before committing to building a new jail.

"Don't duplicate what we already have," he told the county commissioners last week. "Bigger and more modern is not working."

In Howard County and a dozen other jurisdictions in Maryland, drug courts oversee nonviolent offenders through treatment programs - an idea that the study may explore, Rio said. Such alternatives depend on indications from justice personnel that they would consider alternative programs and sentencing.

Rio emphasized that the population projections and alternative ideas are in preliminary stages, pending interviews with the county's Circuit and District Court judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, parole and probation officers, and law enforcement personnel.

Consultants from Atlanta-based Rosser International Inc. are conducting the study, which will also review detention center operational procedures, sheriff's services and the types of cases handled in Carroll County. The result will be a 20-year plan evaluating if and when a new detention center may be needed and what options should be considered as alternatives to incarceration.

The interim report shows one possible projection for the local prison population and is the first trickle of information from the $41,875 study. The next update is due by the end of the month.

The county has expanded the detention center three times since it was built in 1971, with the most recent addition completed less than five years ago. The warden and the sheriff have said expansion is no longer an option.

There are signs that the county is taking steps to reduce the prison population.

The Sheriff's Department was recently awarded a state grant that enabled it to create a home-detention program that could free as many as 25 beds at the jail.

Also, county commissioners signed a lease last month for a state-owned Sykesville property that will be the site of a future $3.2 million drug-treatment facility. The study may explore whether offenders diverted from prisons could be treated at such a facility.

Giese said the planned drug-treatment center is a good first step, especially given that 70 percent to 80 percent of those incarcerated in Carroll are there for drug-related offenses.

A year ago, the sheriff and the detention center's warden, George Hardinger, unveiled a proposal for a $100 million facility, which a contractor would build and the county would lease with an option to buy.

Rather than commit to a specific building plan, the commissioners opted to evaluate the county's need for a new facility.

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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