Balto. Co.'s long-delayed jail opens

Officials move 310 inmates into new Detention Center

May 06, 2006|By JOSH MITCHELL | JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTER

After months of delays, the new Baltimore County Detention Center opened yesterday. But even move-in day for the inmates didn't stay on schedule.

Despite instructions to bring no more than seven pairs of pants, seven shirts and seven pairs of socks, some inmates overpacked. Correctional officers forced them to discard extra items, pushing back some inmates' arrival until later in the morning.

"The Salvation Army or the St. Vincent de Paul Society's going to have a banner day," said James P. O'Neill, the center's chief administrator, referring to the aid organizations.

About 310 inmates - most of them women - moved in yesterday at the building at Bosley Avenue and Kenilworth Drive in Towson. The 784-bed facility, distinguished by its large tinted windows, is the jail's first major expansion since the 1980s. The building connects to the old jail, which will remain open.

Noting the additional space - the number of beds at the jail will double - County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said the new building provides more security and efficiency.

"It's the kind of jail that a county the size of Baltimore County should have," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat. "We have been operating in a jail system that was very antiquated."

Jail administrators have been working out of the new building for several weeks, but a delay in the installation of the security system - which followed construction delays - pushed back the transfer of inmates.

The $77 million building was initially planned to open in late 2004, then in spring of last year. The county is suing three companies that worked on the project, contending that architectural drawings were delivered late and hallways "were slanted, not level," among other problems. In court papers, officials contend that the mistakes led to months of construction delays. The county is seeking $5 million on each of six counts in the lawsuit.

A fourth contractor has filed a lawsuit against the county, saying the company is owed more than $3.6 million for work involving the installation of cells in the new jail. The lawsuit refers to the county's suit against the three contractors and contends that delays caused by the county and other contractors led to delays of its work.

Yesterday's opening came after six years of planning and construction.

In the summer of 2000, then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced the planned expansion, saying it would alleviate crowding and consolidate scattered jail programs.

The proposal was bitterly opposed by neighbors, who said it was forced on them with little thought given to the effect it would have on their community. They lobbied state legislators to withhold money for the project, which received most of its funding from the county.

O'Neill attended many community meetings, and officials said the building would be designed to address neighbors' concerns. Last October, O'Neill gave tours to judges, elected officials and the news media and invited the public in for a look at the 330,000- square-foot building.

For O'Neill, the director of the county's Department of Corrections, it's the third detention center he has helped open, including facilities in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

During one of those experiences in the mid-1980s, a group of inmates set fire to a pile of papers, he said. That episode taught him a lesson: Don't leave the maximum-security inmates as the last to go.

"They've got to act up just to keep their reputations," O'Neill said.

He reported no such problems yesterday, when inmates arrived in vanloads of seven.

The expansion will allow the county to close the Courthouse Court Facility at Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard, which was built in 1956 and has been housing mostly female inmates and those on work release. Inmates from the facility were transferred yesterday to the new building just up the road.

Inmates in the old branch of the detention center will be moved to the new facility in coming weeks.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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