St. Mary's Planners Support Jail Expansion

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St. Mary's Planners Support Jail Expansion

Leonardtown, MD - 3/11/2013

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By Dick Myers

Proposed St. Mary's County Detention Center Expansion
Proposed St. Mary's County Detention Center Expansion

The St. Mary’s County Planning Commission says the county commissioners made a mistake in removing the jail expansion from the six-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). In a unanimous vote Monday the planners asked the commissioners to put the jail expansion back in the plan beginning in Fiscal Year 2015.

The commissioners last week pulled the expansion, on a 3-2 vote, and instead put a $9.5 million renovation project in the budget. See Bay Net story on the vote:

Planning Commission member Merl Evans strongly urged his fellow members to support the jail expansion. “As a planner it doesn’t make any sense to me because it doesn’t address why it was put in there (the capital budget),” he said.

According to Director of Public Works and Transportation George Erichsen, the average daily population for the jail today is 235, which is over the rated capacity of 230. He said for Fiscal Year 2012 the average jail population was 261 and for Calendar Year 2012 it was 254.

Erichsen said the jail expansion was intended to double the capacity, in line with projections for a need for a 440-bed facility by the year 2025.

The project ran into serious trouble when the expansion bid came in $7 million over budget. At that point late last year the commissioners voted 3-2 to pull the plug on the project. But recently Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) seemed to change his mind. But when the vote came last week, Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell reversed his earlier support and voted against the expansion in favor of putting the renovation project in the budget.

Erichsen explained to the planning commission that the original plan entwined the renovation and expansion, allowing for the county to get some state monies for what will be an all-county standalone renovation project. He said that $1 million has already been expended on the expansion plan that was rejected last week.

Evans, who is a member of Sheriff Tim Cameron’s Citizens Advisory Committee, said the expansion is needed and will be much more expensive if delayed to some later date. In the meantime, he said, prisoners from the overcrowded jail will have to be sent to other locations at considerable expense.

County law requires the planning commission to review and make recommendations to the county commissioners on the capital budget. The commissioners will presumably review the recommendation before they make a decision on a recommended budget to go to public hearing.

Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer, who made the presentation to the planning commission, said she wouldn’t be surprised if the jail expansion idea was resurrected during next year’s budget deliberations. She told the planners that one idea being pursued by the county was a regional jail. But Evans pointed out the difficulty of finding a site for such a facility because it would likely cause an uproar among its neighbors.

Commission Vice Chair Shelby Guazzo also expressed concern about the lack of segregated space in the current jail for female prisoners. Corrections Division Commander Captain Michael Merican told the planners that the sections for woman and maximum security had to be switched to handle the increased women’s population.

Merican said his division has requested a mobile unit to house staff who are now in cramped quarters in the existing facility.

The project which the commissioners now have in the CIP would add air conditioning and improved security and locking mechanisms but would not add any additional capacity.

Evans before the unanimous vote said of the proposed combined renovation/expansion, now estimated at $35 million, “It is not a short-term expense; it’s a long-term investment.”

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