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Overcrowding at Washington County jail called 'dangerous'

Expansion would cost $39 million

Expansion would cost $39 million

December 05, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Local and state officials witnessed firsthand Tuesday what Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore has called "dangerous overcrowding" at the Washington County Detention Center.

During a tour of the jail, county officials, Sen. Donald F. Munson and Del. Christopher B. Shank were taken through several of the jail's "pods," or housing units, where some inmates sleep on bunk beds in the pods' common areas.

"Obviously, this is a dangerous situation," said Mullendore, pointing to five inmates lying on their beds less than 10 feet away. "It's dangerous for staff, and it's dangerous for the inmates as well."

The safety of correctional officers and inmates was cited Tuesday as the primary argument for expanding the jail.

Mullendore and other sheriff's department officials presented an expansion plan that would increase the jail's capacity by more than 40 percent over the next 12 years.

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The $39 million expansion would use the former Phoenix Color building on Tandy Drive to add 254 beds to the jail. The jail has 345 beds to accommodate an inmate population that averages more than 400 people per day. Temporary bunks are set up in common areas to make up the difference.

"The inn is full," said Maj. Martin V. Evans, the jail's warden. "There are no more places left to put inmates."

Mullendore, Evans, Col. Randy Wilkinson and architect Brent Feight of Bushy, Feight, Morin Architects Inc. laid out a five-part plan Tuesday to expand the jail.

The first part would include adding a prebuilt, 96-bed "emergency housing unit" to the jail's main complex off Western Maryland Parkway, Mullendore said.

The new housing unit would provide cells for inmates currently sleeping on bunks in open areas and would give the sheriff's department "a cushion" to move inmates around when further construction starts, Mullendore said.

The unit would cost about $2.4 million, and construction would begin by July 2008, according to the plan.

In addition, three permanent housing units would be built in the former Phoenix Color building between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2016. Two of the units would be for female inmates, who currently stay in common areas.

Evans said housing female inmates in open areas can create safety concerns when "enemies and informants" are housed in the same room.

The plan also includes a county warehouse, expanded vehicle maintenance area, larger administration and food service sections, a larger holding area and renovation of four of the five existing pods.

The fifth pod would be destroyed during construction of a corridor to link the main complex with the former Phoenix Color building.

Mullendore said funding for the expansion has not been secured, but he said the state has shown an interest in the project and could pay at least 50 percent of the total cost.

However, he noted that if the $2.4 million prebuilt housing unit is constructed next year it will not be eligible for state funding.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray suggested that Mullendore meet with the county commissioners again to finalize the plan before it is approved.

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