So many women are crammed into Baltimore County's old jail that Administrator James M. Dean arranged the release of two of them this week before their sentences expired.
Although the overall number of county prisoners is below peak levels, Dean said a record 162 women are in the jail on Bosley Avenue at Towsontown Boulevard -- a 40-year-old building that a consultant last year recommended closing.
The burgeoning number of female prisoners is an outgrowth of an overall jail crowding problem that was not anticipated when the main detention center on nearby Kenilworth Drive opened in 1982.
"Then, the county normally had less than 20 women," Dean said of the jail population. "It was usually about 10."
With a growing number of male inmates, the new detention center that was planned to house both sexes was reserved for men -- and women remained in the Bosley Avenue facility. But the numbers there also began to climb.
At midday yesterday as Dean accompanied a reporter through the old three-story jail, which was clean and freshly painted, inmates confined in dormitory-style cellblocks in groups up to 16 each complained about a lack of exercise time and having to eat in their cramped quarters.
Twenty-eight other inmates were moved this week into the last unused cell space on the upper floor, where a separate section out of view is used to house male jail trusties.
"We're under a real crisis," Dean said.
Most of the women were in bed, partly because there is little room to move except in the aisles between the two-tiered bunks.
In other, more traditional cellblocks, prisoners were housed two to a small, barred cell, but their doors were open to a walkway lined with extra beds.
Each cell section includes a small adjoining "day room" containing a long, metal dining table, a television and bathroom facilities -- and two to four portable beds.
"We don't have the room to use many portable beds," Dean said, noting that the common rooms are too small to accommodate them or are used for other purposes -- such as the gym housing up to 35 men serving weekend-only sentences.
Dean said the cafeteria is used for meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but -- because it is not large enough for all of the women, and there are frequent conflicts aggravated by the crowding -- it is not used for eating.
The women's jail is part of a complex called the Courthouse Court Facility.
It includes the original 1854 county jail, where rooms that once housed the warden's family house 40 male work-release prisoners.
Next to that, behind a security fence, are five trailers used to house 80 more male minimum-security, work-release inmates.
The consultant's report issued 18 months ago recommended that the county build cells for 1,248 more prisoners by 1999, at an estimated cost of $77 million -- a step that would include the closing of outmoded and temporary facilities but increase the capacity by roughly 50 percent.
But County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III has said his priority is building more classrooms for students, so the county has opted to keep the women's jail open and spend $500,000 to overhaul its electrical and heating systems.
The last new construction was a 216-bed addition to the Kenilworth Drive detention center in 1994.
The two women released early this week were to get out Sunday and Monday, one after serving nearly six months for violating probation and the other after nearly three months for a misdemeanor theft.
Each early release is approved by the sentencing judge, Dean said, adding that he wanted to release more women early but several judges are on vacation.
About half the women, like male prisoners, are awaiting trials while the rest are serving terms of 18 months or less for such crimes as theft, prostitution and drug abuse.
The futility of the situation was brought home Tuesday, Dean said, when one of the women was released early and "we got four more in that same day."
Yesterday, three more females were waiting in county police precincts for admission to the jail.
The only available jail space, Dean said, was not available for female inmates -- it was in the main detention center, which was about 100 men below its record confinement of 850.
Typically, the male population is lowest in summer and winter, and climbs each spring and fall.
"It should start going up around Sept. 1," Dean said.
The female population trends have been different.
"They've been [increasing] pretty steady," he said. "If I've got a court order, we've got to take them."
Pub Date: 8/16/96