If Carroll County's commissioners decide at this juncture to return to the drawing board and design a new jail from scratch, they will be making a big mistake. Carroll's detention center needs the additional cells now, and the sooner they are built, the better off the county will be.
The commissioners have in their hands construction drawings and a contractor's bid for an 80-bed addition to the 120-bed detention center. If the commissioners approve the bid, construction could begin immediately. However, there is a problem -- the low bid is about $1 million more than the county had budgeted for the project.
The higher-than-expected cost has stymied the commissioners, and they are now examining all sorts of alternatives -- ranging from using modular structures as part of the addition to building an entirely new jail at the Northern Landfill outside of Westminster.
At present, the jail is running close to capacity most days and on some weekends it is housing more inmates than it was intended to hold. During these times, inmates sleep in hallways or in the gym, creating potentially dangerous conditions for other inmates as well as the guards.
A home detention system -- which has yet to be implemented in a major way in the county -- is designed to remove some of the non-violent offenders from Carroll's jail, but it will not solve the problem of persistent overcrowding. The only solution is to add more cells.
Purchasing modular cells is a quick-fix option. These units are cheap, but they are not designed to accommodate the security needs of the jail. Moreover, the layout of these modular cells would require hiring 24 additional guards, according to Sheriff John Brown. In the end, the less expensive construction costs would be offset by the increased personnel costs.
Commissioner Donald Dell's off-the-cuff suggestion of building a new jail needs much more study than the commissioners have given it. There are some advantages to building a new jail at a different location. A new site would allow the county to build a much larger jail than is now possible. But the commissioners would be addressing problems that won't exist for many years.
Before undertaking the planning and construction of a brand-new jail for the next century, the Carroll commissioners should focus their attention on the immediate crisis: the need for more jails cells now.