Addition to jail nearly ready; $6.1 million wing will be brought into use gradually


After more than 10 years of planning and about 18 months in construction, the $6.1 million addition to the Carroll County Detention Center should be ready for occupancy next week.

The 100-bed addition will alleviate crowding that has troubled the Westminster jail for the past decade. To combat chronic crowding, a former sheriff proposed housing prisoners in army-style tents behind the jail, but the plan was abandoned in part because safety standards would have required costly sprinklers.

The detention center was built to house 124 prisoners, but has averaged nearly 170 inmates on a daily basis the past two years, according to a jail census. The gym and training room have been converted to housing.

The new wing has three units, including a segregation unit. Each unit can hold 16 inmates. In addition, the work-release unit in the new wing will house 50 inmates. Two medical isolation units have room for one inmate each.

A portion of the new wing could have been ready yesterday, but county officials thought it would be better for legal reasons to wait to take possession of the entire building, said Lt. Col. George R. Hardinger, the jail's warden.

As soon as he gets approval to move in, Hardinger said staff members will need about a week to thoroughly search the building for leftover construction materials, such as pieces of wire or metal rods that could be fashioned into weapons.

"That is necessary for staff safety, but we also need to hold an operational shakedown, to be sure we do not encounter problems under conditions of normal usage," Hardinger said. "One toilet may flush OK, but what happens if 20 are flushed simultaneously?"

Yesterday's jail occupancy stood at 188 inmates, including 25 women, who must be housed out of sight and sound of male inmates, according to state regulations.

The daily census peaked at just over 200 inmates last year, forcing jail officials to use the gym and training room to house inmates.

A recent increase in the number of female inmates forced jail officials to move some male prisoners out of the detention center's converted gymnasium.

The women, previously squeezed into a unit designed for 16, were moved into the gymnasium.

"Anytime you have crowded conditions in a jail, the risk of problems -- inmate fighting, for example -- rises significantly," Hardinger said.

The crowded conditions won't suddenly disappear when the new addition opens, because renovations to the existing building must be made, he said.

Rather than move prisoners multiple times, the jail staff will reclassify each inmate according to standards, including level of security, behavior since incarceration, previous criminal history and nature of crimes.

At first, 16 with compatible classifications will be moved to the new wing. For instance, those on work release, who must rise before 5 a.m., could be placed in the same unit so others with later work schedules would not be disturbed by the early-risers.

As soon as one unit in the old building becomes vacant, contractors will install automatic sprinklers to meet state correctional safety standards.

After the renovation of the vacated unit is completed, prisoners will clean and repaint the unit.

Hardinger said the transition can be accomplished without multiple moves because the staggered renovations will not leave him without the use of more than one unit at a time.

All renovations to the old portion of the jail are expected to be finished by November, said Tom Rio, the county's chief of building construction.

Once finished, the daily population can comfortably reach 200 before crowding would again be a concern, Hardinger said.

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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