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Hogan pitches $480 million plan for new Baltimore jail complex

Gov. Larry Hogan unveils plan to replace closed Baltimore City jail with new six-story complex.

Six months after abruptly closing the Baltimore jail, Gov. Larry Hogan is putting forward an ambitious plan to tear down the troubled facility and build a modern corrections complex.

His plan to more quickly demolish the Civil War-era jail complex and erect a Baltimore Justice Center in its place would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, Hogan administration officials say, but would require the delay of several costly projects at Maryland universities.

The Republican governor must sell his plan to the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, whose leaders had not been briefed in detail on why Hogan wants to revamp building plans the legislature had approved.

The centerpiece of the project would be a new six-story jail, which would house men and women and include space for education and drug treatment programs. In all, 16 buildings on the 27-acre corrections site would be demolished.

"Over the past year the governor has proven that he not only wants to change Maryland for the better, but he wants that change to start immediately," Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said Thursday. "The legislature's plan was supposed to take 10 years. The governor wasn't interested in waiting that long, and quite frankly, neither are the people in this state."

Hogan administration officials say the new plan was developed in recent months after the governor's decision in July to close the jail immediately and move detainees into nearby detention facilities. It is part of a continuing effort to resolve litigation over poor conditions at the Baltimore center, officials said.

But they also touted the Hogan plan as cost-effective, saying it would consolidate operations and involve fewer phases of construction, turning a plan that would have cost $780 million over 13 years into a $480 million project that would take five years.

"We are being responsible with taxpayer money by trying to take care of what has been a chronic problem," said Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley.

The state took over the jail in 1991.

City officials said Hogan's staff did not brief Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and declined to comment until they could learn more about the plan.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat on the Budget and Taxation Committee, said that no one in the city's delegation or on the budget committee had been briefed on Hogan's proposal.

"I would have hoped they would have come to us," Ferguson said. "It would be irresponsible of us, as fiscal stewards, to sign on because of 'cost savings' when he has not given us any justification."

Plans to replace the decrepit jail have been batted around for at least a decade and were ramped up in 2013 in the wake of the corruption scandal involving the Black Guerrilla Family gang, which authorities said was essentially running the facility.

In 2013, legislators endorsed a plan to tear down and rebuild the jail that was projected to cost $533 million and take 10 years. Construction of the first phase, a youth detention facility, began last year.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said he was not aware of anyone who had been briefed on the scope of the new project, adding that "everyone was fine with the plan" before.

"We're ready and prepared to hold hearings on this," Busch said of Hogan's plan.

Support from lawmakers is crucial if the plan is to move forward. Unlike most of the state's budget, the legislature has wide latitude to adjust construction projects, including changing the scope or timing of a project, adding a new project or canceling one.

In addition to changing the scope of the jail project, Hogan would delay major construction projects at several universities to rebuild the jail sooner, according to state budget records.

A biosciences project at the University of Maryland would be delayed by three years, a business school project at Coppin State by two years, and projects at Morgan State and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County by a year.

An analysis by the Department of Legislative Services said Hogan proposes to divert $262.8 million to public-safety projects next year and put off $348.6 million in higher-education projects.

The new jail would be built at the Baltimore corrections complex east of the Jones Falls Expressway, a site that includes the Central Booking intake facility. Central Booking, which opened in 1995, would remain in place.

David Bezanson, assistant secretary for capital programs at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said buildings east of Central Booking stretching to the Metropolitan Transition Center tower would be demolished over the next two years. Next year's proposed budget includes $16.5 million for the demolition and $18.2 million for design of the new facility.

Among the buildings that would be torn down are the men's detention center, a castle-like administration building overlooking Madison Street, and the "C-block" of the transition center, which dates to 1810. Several of the buildings slated for demolition have been vacant in recent years.

The area surrounding the complex contains several other corrections facilities, including the Chesapeake Detention Facility, formerly known as Supermax.

Bezanson said officials looked at possible new sites for the jail project, but declined to say where. "Alternative sites were looked at and not acceptable," he said, noting the current location's proximity to the downtown courthouses and the ability to move corrections staff between buildings.

Spending on corrections projects has been criticized over the years by activists who say the money would be better spent on programs to prevent crime and keep people out of jail. But officials have countered that the state has been hit with numerous complaints over conditions at the facilities, requiring new facilities instead of piecemeal upgrades.

Advocates for prisoners in June renewed their complaints over a lack of timely medical assessments, interruptions of medications to control diseases such as AIDS and diabetes, incomplete medical records, and shortages of supplies and fundamental equipment such as wheelchairs.

The state agreed in November to make major improvements, and to allow three independent monitors to inspect the facility and report to a federal judge, who will enforce compliance. The agreement is on hold after the judge overseeing the case said detainees should have a chance to offer input.

Almost 90,000 square feet of the new building would be devoted to health services, Bezanson said, addressing a chief complaint of the ongoing litigation.

Elizabeth Alexander, an attorney who has been part of the lawsuit, said she did not have details of the Hogan proposal but has concerns about how the project would be carried out.

"I know during the transition process [after the closing of the jail] a lot of stuff was going on, because there were real displacements and failures to coordinate that caused hardship and danger to people," Alexander said.

The scope of the jail project has shrunk as the state's inmate population dwindled. The original plan called for 3,820 beds within 1.2 million square feet of space. The new plan would accommodate 2,720 beds in 800,000 square feet. Maintenance, library, and laundry space would be consolidated. While the current facilities have four visitation areas, the new building would require only one.

"The governor has different people in place, and he took a different evaluation of what was going on," Brinkley said. "When new eyes took a look at it, we found a better way to do it."

A Hogan aide defended the administration's decision not to consult others before putting the plan forward, saying that it is the right call.

"The governor made the decision to close the notorious Baltimore Men's Detention Center because it was dangerous, unsafe and a complete embarrassment for our state," Mayer said.

"He didn't ask permission because it was the right thing to do. And he'll continue to do that."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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