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DWI jail still on hold


During his campaign for the Baltimore County Executive's office, Roger Hayden rapped then-executive Dennis Rasmussen for failing to find a site for a new facility to incarcerate and treat people convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Two years later, the DWI jail still isn't operating, a fact that groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving keep bringing to Mr. Hayden's attention. That the 100-bed facility was first proposed four years ago makes MADD even madder.

Mr. Hayden decided soon after taking office that the facility would be located on the grounds of Rosewood State Hospital in Reisterstown. His administration has since spent $700,000 to renovate a structure for the jail but has delayed its opening a number of times.

To cover the expenses of security and private counselors to treat offenders, the county would have to pony up some $1 million for each of the next two years. That's how long it's estimated to take before the jail could be supported mainly by user fees, which would be $2,000 per offender.

Administration officials now hope for a March 1993 opening, but they've hinted the starting date might be pushed back again.

The delays are blamed on the usual culprit -- the economy. Officials say a county that has had to reduce police and fire-fighting forces and furlough teachers can't be expected to give top priority to a DWI jail, no matter how noble the concept.

Yet there are also indications that County Sheriff Norman Pepersack has had a hand in the delays by insisting the minimum-security facility be staffed with 40-odd officers from his department. Such a large security detail would cost a mint and be entirely unnecessary. Prince George's County's DWI facility, on which the Baltimore County operation is modeled, has only about a dozen guards.

Mr. Hayden appears committed to the facility. However, he's likely to keep it in mothballs since ground has been broken for a county jail annex.

Ironically, advocates of the DWI project argue it would ease overcrowding at the county jail, where dozens of inmates at any time would be prime candidates for the DWI facility. Some also argue that big bucks have already been spent on renovating the Rosewood building, so why not take the plunge with another $2 million over two years?

Allocating that kind of cash sounds like a tall order these days. But it could prove a good investment if the DWI facility quickly becomes self-sufficient and, more important, helps saves lives.

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