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Sheriff says overcrowding at county's jail is a security risk

March 30, 2007|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - For 13 months, the Washington County Detention Center's male population has been above capacity and some inmates sleep on cots in open areas instead of cells, Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said Thursday.

Inmates charged with crimes ranging from petty theft to first-degree murder are housed in the same facility.

Mullendore has asked the Washington County Commissioners for money to buy the 83,900-square-foot Phoenix Color building on Tandy Drive behind the detention center. Renovations to that building would allow the detention center to segregate its inmate population and move services - such as the detention center laundry - to the other building.

With a rising inmate population, Mullendore said the space will be needed.

The jail has 330 beds for male inmates and 71 beds for female inmates. Mullendore said the male inmate population is consistently over capacity while the female inmate population runs below capacity.

Overcrowding is a security and safety risk, Mullendore said.

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Mullendore attributes the jail's growing pains to the addition of a fifth Washington County Circuit Court judge in 2004, law enforcement "aggressively dealing with issues" and the county's growing population.

As temporary relief, the Sheriff's Department works with the State's Attorney's office to use alternative sentencing options that range from a pretrial home detention to treatment programs for drug and alcohol offenders, Mullendore said.

The average daily inmate population in 2006 was 403, although that figure includes inmates on home detention, according to a draft of the Washington County Sheriff's Office annual report. In 2006, 2,950 inmates - 2,391 men and 559 women - were held for some period at the jail, according to the report.

Judges sent 95 inmates to home detention, 114 to work release, five to pretrial home detention, and 140 inmates were incarcerated only on the weekends, according to the report.

Eleven inmates housed in the facility in 2006 were charged with murder, and drug charges sent 825 inmates to the jail. Theft and robbery, harassment and assault, and failure to appear were also common charges, according to the report.

Separating members of rival gangs and problematic inmates into disciplinarian cells also becomes more difficult when the jail's population exceeds its capacity, Mullendore said.

In 2006, 14 inmates admitted to belonging to the Crips gang, 18 to the Bloods gang, nine to the Aryan Brotherhood, one to MS-13 and one to the Ku Klux Klan, according to the annual report.

About 75 percent of the inmates are Washington County residents, with the rest of the population divided evenly between being residents of other Maryland counties and other states, according to the annual report.

Mullendore expects the population to increase more as a central booking facility is added to the Sheriff's Department compound. Central booking allows officers to spend more time on the street, and less time processing arrests, so Mullendore said he expects more arrests. The central booking facility should be operational by July 2008, Mullendore said.

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