A $23 million proposal to expand the Kent County Detention Center, and build a new sheriff’s office and 911 center, has given two commissioners sticker shock.
The proposal would add nearly 50,000 square feet to the facility on Flatland Road and require taking on bond debt.
Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian acknowledged that upgrades to the 30-year-old facility were warranted, but he was adamant that he would not support anything “even close to the cost of what’s been proposed.”
“Not on my watch,” Fithian said in a brief phone interview. “There’s no way I’m committing $23 million to this project. We’re going to have to live within our means.”
“There certainly are issues with the 911 center and the detention center, but I truly believe we’ll get it done for much, much less than $23 million,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Mason was concerned about the price tag as well and said alternatives need to be considered.
“We don’t have that kind of money and I’m not interested in putting the citizens of Kent County in that kind of debt,” Mason said in a brief phone interview. “I really don’t think we need to spend that much to update those facilities.”
Commissioner Bob Jacob said he wanted to dive deeper into the proposal before making any decisions.
“It is way too preliminary to discount anything at this point,” he said in an email. “You always start by looking at the fully loaded car before you settle on what car you drive off the lot. At this point we have only looked at an idea. Lots to be discussed.”
The study completed by Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates of Pennsylvania cost the county $127,000.
Inmate population in decline
The inmate population in Kent ranged from 75 to 83 between 2008 and 2016, as reported by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. But as of April 2018, the last statistics available, the inmate population fell to 66.
Kent County Detention Center Superintendent Herbert Dennis acknowledged the decline in the inmate population but said the proposal focuses more on compliance to make sure juveniles, adults and the mentally ill are properly separated—and to make sure there is adequate programming to help inmates re-enter the community.
“We do a lot more than just jail people,” Dennis said.
Fithian said the county could meet compliance with the less expensive alternatives.
Maryland’s overall prison population declined this year to under 18,000, the first time since the 1980s. The bi-partisan Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act, signed into law in 2016 has been credited with reducing incarceration and recidivism rates for low offenses. The JRA also did away with mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders while imposing stiffer sentences for violent crimes.
Feature image by Neil Conway via Flickr