County officials are planning a five-story addition to the Harford County Detention Center, bringing an additional 88,000 square feet to accommodate the increased demand for space.
Construction is expected to start in the late fall, although a date has not been set, said Harford County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Christina R. Presberry. The construction is expected to last two years.
"With more people moving into the county, that means more crime," Presberry said. "With the jail at capacity at times, we need to expand."
The facility has 474 beds, but in a recent report to the county government, Sheriff L. Jesse Bane estimated a current need of 500 beds.
The $29 million project, which will add 288 beds to the center and expand the booking and processing areas, will be funded by the state and county.
Plans call for four medium-security housing units with 48 beds each, as well as eight maximum-security units with 12 beds each.
When the project is complete, the center will have 762 beds and 211,000 square feet of space.
The Harford County Development Advisory Committee, which reviews subdivision and site plans to check for conformity with the county's development regulations, looked at the plans during a meeting Wednesday.
Some of the permits for the project have not been issued yet.
The addition will be constructed on the facility's current parking lot and will be attached to the existing structure. The parking lot will be relocated to another parcel of land.
Inmates will not be relocated from the detention center during the construction.
"It's not going to affect security of the inmates because it doesn't affect the housing areas," Presberry said.
However, the administrative offices will be affected during the expansion, she said.
The detention center processes and confines people arrested in Harford County before their trials or pre-trial release by the courts.
Occasionally, capacity at the center has been exceeded.
"From time to time, it goes over the capacity, which is one of the reasons it's time to expand," Presberry said.
"The county is expanding. As far as we've got people moving into the county, we need places to house people we're arresting."
Crowding increases security issues and raises the risk of a court intervention, officials say. If inmates are sent to facilities outside Harford County, it costs more for the county.
Bane has predicted that the county will need about 800 beds by 2020.
The Detention Center, which sits on a 12-acre parcel on Rocks Spring Road north of Bel Air, opened in 1972 with 140 beds. The center houses inmates who are sentenced to 18 months or less.
In 2006, the Detention Center housed an average of 426 inmates daily, and the average length of stay was 39 days.