Study calls for doubling of Carroll jail capacity

Report suggests starting construction immediately

February 11, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County needs to double its jail capacity by 2024 and should begin construction immediately on what could be an $80 million, five-year project, according to a consultant's study released yesterday.

The Carroll County Detention Center in downtown Westminster housed 250 inmates yesterday, 37 short of its capacity. The number of inmates at the county's only jail facility has increased by more than 500 percent in 20 years and grown by nearly 100 percent in a decade, the study showed.

"Even if we started building today," Warden George Hardinger said, "before the new facility was completed we would be at capacity."

"We should proceed ASAP to avoid a situation where we don't have any beds," he said.

The consultant - Rosser International Inc. of Atlanta - projects conservatively that the jail population will increase in the next 20 years by 98.8 percent.

"The [current] facility is clearly bursting at the seams," said Joy Holland, vice president of Rosser's justice systems division.

"It is only because it is clean and well run that people don't realize how crowded it is. This becomes a life and safety issue for staff," Holland said.

The consultant reviewed the center's operational procedures, alternatives to incarceration, sheriff's services and the types of cases handled in Carroll County.

The jail will likely reach capacity next year, a deadline that prompted the commissioners last spring to authorize the $41,875 study.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said an increase in the number of inmates is inevitable given the county's growing population, now at 167,000.

Aggressive enforcement of alcohol- and drug-related offenses, he said, will also continue to push the numbers up.

"This is fairly phenomenal growth," Holland said. "Carroll County is also doing a great deal in terms of alternatives, such as home detention, that are keeping people out of jail."

The study provided three possible expansion scenarios, two of them at hypothetical 30-acre sites with public utilities and no costly development issues.

The third option involved adding multiple levels and a parking garage at the Westminster location, which would make both the prison and the parking decks taller than the County Office Building.

The study did not address the aesthetics of a jail dominating the county government's office complex.

"Multi-stories are the only way to make use of the existing site," Holland said.

The county has expanded the detention center three times since it was built in 1971 for 36 inmates.

The most recent addition was completed less than five years ago. The warden and the sheriff have said expansion is no longer an option.

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.

Tregoning said yesterday that without such alternative programs, the jail population could have reached 400 this week. "We are working against a pressing timetable," Tregoning said.

Costs for the expansion options ranged from $72.6 million to $80.7 million.

The two hypothetical versions included $1.25 million for acquiring a 30-acre parcel - about the size of a new elementary school campus - an estimate officials called extremely conservative, given the high cost of land. The sheriff's administrative offices and the detention center sit on about 3 acres along Court Street.

"Thirty acres would be ideal, and with infrastructure in place you would have the ability to grow," said Doug Shaw, senior architect with Rosser International.

Escalating construction costs and the critical shortage of beds should prompt the commissioners to begin the project immediately, the consultants said.

"There are not substantial savings to phasing in the project," Shaw said. "It makes more sense to build all beds now."

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, said he hoped to have firm construction costs prepared for the commissioners by the end of the month.

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