By investing $12,000 to explore the possibility of sending some of their jail inmates to boot camp, officials in Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties are showing creativity in dealing with rising jail costs. Transferring inmates out of the jails may help ease overcrowding and might also be an effective rehabilitation tool.
Under the plan coordinated by Baltimore County's corrections administrator, the three counties would apply for a $50,000 Justice Department grant. If the grant is approved, each jurisdiction would contribute $4,000 toward a $62,000 consultant study on opening a tri-county boot camp. The study would deal with some basic questions: Where to locate it, its size, which inmates could be sentenced there. Even if the study concludes that such a boot camp is feasible, the counties are not committed to opening one.
Cost is driving this quest. Housing inmates at detention centers is expensive. Carroll, for example, will spend about $1.9 million this year on jailing people awaiting trial or sentenced for short periods. Housing, protecting and caring for inmates costs taxpayers about $56 a day. Carroll's jail is often filled to its 120-inmate capacity. The county plans to spend about $2 million to add 80 cells. The problems are similar in Harford and Baltimore counties, where incarceration is one of the fastest growing areas of the budget.
Housing inmates in a boot camp can be done for half the cost of keeping them in a secure detention center. Primarily younger offenders will be eligible for a boot camp. Mason Waters, Carroll's warden, estimates that about a fifth of the people sentenced in Carroll County could go to a boot camp. Defendants awaiting trial would not be eligible for this program.
The boot camp concept is certainly worth exploring, as is continued use of home detention for non-violent offenders. The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has had some success with a boot camp in Jessup that has handled more than 1,200 offenders since 1990.
This metropolitan approach of having three counties develop a boot camp shows promise. Along with a composting plant that Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties are planning jointly and regional business promotional efforts, these are signs that regional thinking may finally be is taking root. If so, it will be a benefit to taxpayers. We can no longer just send people to jail without any consideration of the costs.