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Police chief opposes halfway house in city

September 27, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The Federal Bureau of Prisons wants to open a halfway house in Hagerstown or somewhere else near Martinsburg, W.Va.

The bureau is soliciting proposals for a Residential Re-entry Center with 12 to 24 beds, spokeswoman Felicia Ponce wrote in an e-mail. Most of the beds would be for men, one-third for women.

The center must be within 40 miles of Martinsburg. It would help federal prisoners serving the end of their sentences readjust to the community, according to Ponce.

Bids are due Oct. 1.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said Bannum Inc. of New Port Richey, Fla., which has run other halfway houses, talked this month about opening one at 29-33 E. Washington St., east of Public Square.

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However, that site is no longer being considered. Mike Deming, whose development company owns that parcel, said the proposal wasn't a good fit.

The search for a local site is continuing, said Smith, who opposes putting a halfway house in Hagerstown. He said bringing in prisoners with no ties to the city will add to the currently strained social services and criminal justice systems.

In a letter to the Bureau of Prisons, Smith wrote that he expects "City, County and State governments will make it a priority to block efforts in this regard."

He listed four reasons:

n The area already has three state prisons contributing to local crime.

n The city has dramatically revitalized its downtown core. "Your project would be a stunning reversal of our hard-fought gains," Smith wrote. "The location could not be worse."

n Relatively few people from Hagerstown are federal criminal defendants, so the halfway house wouldn't help local residents.

n "This project would be correctly viewed by the community as another case of 'dumping' prisoners from outside of our area, and outside of the State, into downtown Hagerstown; again reversing hard-fought gains achieved by the law enforcement community in concert with our elected officials and our business community."

For years, inmates from three state prisons south of Hagerstown were released at a nearby bus station with money for bus fare. Local officials frequently protested, saying many inmates didn't leave the area.

In August 2007, Gary D. Maynard, the state's secretary of public safety and correctional services, changed the policy and switched the release point to the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore.

On Friday, Ponce declined to respond to Smith's objections or comment on specific bidders.

Smith said in a phone interview that Bannum sent him a letter at the beginning of this month about putting a halfway house in Hagerstown. He responded with protest letters to Bannum and the Bureau of Prisons.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman didn't return phone messages left on Friday.

A message to Bannum's headquarters also wasn't returned.

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