WASHINGTON – State and federal lawmakers have quickly come out against a preliminary Justice Department proposal to build a maximum-security prison in one of four potential locations in Maryland.
The proposal to build a 1,750-bed federal prison in the Baltimore-Washington region was announced to Maryland officials last week at a meeting with Department of Justice officials. The facility would house prisoners waiting for trial in the state and in Washington, D.C.
“There is a need for a facility in the Baltimore-Washington region,” said department spokesman Jorge Martinez.
But Martinez could not say how the government chose the sites under study: Dundalk in Baltimore County and Cheltenham, Brandywine and East Gate in Prince George’s County.
Neither could local officials, who said they were not consulted on the sites.
“You don’t find solutions by just picking an area on the map,” said Damian O’Doherty, spokesman for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.
Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson said in a written statement Wednesday that such a facility would undermine public safety and the quality of life of county residents.
“It’s not a very good industry to have within a community,” said James Keary, Johnson’s spokesman.
Maryland Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski said in a Tuesday letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft that the sites under consideration are highly populated areas with schools, parks and businesses.
“There is no rational justification for placing a 1,750-bed maximum-security detention center housing dangerous criminals in these neighborhoods,” said the letter from the Democratic senators.
Martinez said Wednesday that the process is still at a “very early stage.” He said the department is undertaking a “thorough study to identify the best location,” and will gather extensive input from the communities before settling on a site.
“We have begun to consult closely with communities and with state and local government officials,” Martinez said. “Those views will be included in the department’s decision-making process.”
But officials in Prince George’s County and Baltimore County said their view is that the facility should not be built in their counties at all.
“We do have our own correctional facility” in Prince George’s County, Keary said. “So we are already shouldering part of the burden for the state.”
O’Doherty said the federal government should not have proposed the project until it consulted with the community and with county officials.
Baltimore County has specific problems with a facility in Dundalk, he said. It could hamper efforts, such as a waterfront project, to revitalize the area, and O’Doherty said the county would not stand for it.
“For the federal government to come and try to pre-empt that . . . ,” he said. “Only in the mind of a Washington bureaucrat does a waterfront prison make sense.”