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Money pours into walls that never rise

February 19, 2008

I didn't know what a sally port was, but take that with a grain of salt, because I didn't know what a spider hole was, either.

Like, which Sally? Miss Sally? Sally Forth? Long Tall Sally?

After boning up on the subject, I'm still not entirely sure. But I do know this: They're expensive. The one Washington County wants to build would run $900,000, not counting any of the predictable cost overruns.

This is where Sally gets Hairy. Because for our $1 million, give or take, all we get is another wall.

The sally port is to be built at the county courthouse and it basically allows prisoners being hauled before the judge to enter the building without being seen by the outside public. Near as I can tell, it's like an airlock on a submarine. Prison van goes in, door closes behind. And then, if I remember my "Hunt for Red October," a corrections officer will pound three times on the courthouse door with a sledgehammer and a slew of Russians will open it up and everybody goes in.

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The county says this is a valuable security measure because as it is now, any crazed family member of a victim or criminal who doesn't want the inmate to squeal could open fire from the street.

All right.

But $900,000? Must be a big port. Who do they plan on bringing in, Sally Struthers?

Of course I didn't think the Lenco Bearcat anti-terrorism vehicle was worth it, either. And while it hasn't bagged any terrorists, it's proved invaluable to local SWAT teams when members of our own populace go nuts. Who could have guessed?

I don't know though - $900,000 still seems like a lot. If they are worried about the inmate being seen, couldn't they just use a tarp? Put a big curtain rod across the alley and make the tarp out of Kevlar.

Or better, if it's going to cost close to $1 million, I say we scrap due process altogether. Really, how bad does an inmate need to see a judge? Due process had its time in the sun, but, as a wise man once said, "that's not the way to do things in this day and age."

If the prisoner wants to see the judge, give him some 8-by-10 glossies.

This isn't just a "don't fritter away my hard-earned tax dollars" approach, this is a modern, enlightened approach. Think how much the county could reduce its carbon footprint if it weren't running inmates back and forth to court all the time. Those prison vans ain't a Toyota Prius, if you know what I'm saying.

Dude gets arrested and the officer says, "Look, I'm sorry, but in these days of global warming, we just can't be handing out justice for all like it grew on trees. No way we can get you a hearing without some carbon offsets."

Instead of posting bail, the family of the accused will have to establish a wetlands.

There's one other wee bitty problem I have with this sally port plan, and that's because it involved The Alley.

If you mange around downtown on a regular basism you know what I'm talking about, but if not, the situation is this: The alley that runs between the courthouse and a bank has already been subjected to a bit of construction recently.

And when I say "bit," I mean "epic" and when I say "recently" I mean the better part of this millennium.

This area to the side of the courthouse has been under construction for so long that no one can remember what the construction was originally supposed to accomplish.

I think - and I hate to say this - it was another wall.

According to the county, "If everything goes well, the (sally port) project could begin this spring and be completed by the fall."

Do me a favor: define "well."

Is that "well" as in you don't hit any asbestos, or "well" as in Joshua makes a return visit to earth and, in a reverse of Jericho, the walls miraculously go up on time and under budget?

I have no idea how much money The Alley has cost us to date, but I'm thinking that for the price of the old wall, plus the cost of the proposed wall, an entire new courthouse could have been built in Dargan or someplace, where crazed family members couldn't find it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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