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Detention center group rejects Neall's criticism COUNTYWIDE


Members of the task force that is to recommend a site for a new detention center leapt to their own defense yesterday after sharp criticism from County Executive Robert R. Neall and Councilwoman Diane R. Evans.

Mr. Neall "appointed four people on the committee," said Lola Hand, who represents the Third District on the committee. "So you tell me what he wants."

Mr. Neall said Wednesday the committee was "playing games" by dismissing his favored Ordnance Road site and including others he said clearly did not meet the county's criteria. That same day, Ms. Evans resigned from the Detention Center and Alternative Sentences Task Force, complaining that the site selection process was flawed.

But even Mr. Neall's appointees voted against the Ordnance Road site and and another in West County that he preferred, Ms. Hand said. "They realized those sites were almost impossible sites."

The task force rejected the 85-acre Ordnance Road site last week because a soil test done for Coca-Cola Co. several years ago showed higher than normal levels of carcinogens. A 1991 test done for the county showed acceptable levels.

The West County site, called Konterra, was rejected because the $92 million price tag was considered too high.

Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, a member of the task force until he resigned to allow a constituent to represent his district, said Ms. Evans' resignation and Mr. Neall's criticism stem from the panel's rejection of the Ordnance Road site.

"Why waste everybody's time?" he asked. "It's saying, 'I can't get my way, so I'm quitting.' "

He predicted Mr. Neall would force the site through the County Council.

"They said it's going to be Ordnance Road and they're going to do everything in their power to make sure it goes there. And I don't think it's fair," he said.

In resigning, Ms. Evans said she disagreed with the criteria the committee was using to select a site. She also felt it spent too much time discussing alternatives to putting people in prison and not enough time talking about building a new prison.

But Ms. Hand said the discussion of such alternatives was an important step in reducing the prison population and avoiding the need for more prisons.

Task force members have considered starting a prerelease center similar to the facility in Montgomery County, in which prisoners are prepared for their return to their communities through psychological programs or alcohol and drug abuse counseling.

Robert Moore, vice chairman of the task force, said he thought Ms. Evans' resignation was premature because the panel almost has completed its work.

"I don't quite understand why she would resign at this late stage," he said.

The task force has scheduled a public hearing on the four remaining sites Oct. 21, at Glen Burnie High School.

"Hopefully, they're going to tell us that a site is good for some reason, or a site is bad for some reason," Mr. Moore said.

The task force is to deliver its final report to Mr. Neall by Oct. 28.

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