WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said Friday that it has withdrawn a plan to build a federal maximum-security prison on one of four sites in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties.
The project faced strong opposition from local and federal elected officials, who said they were not consulted about the project. They accused the Justice Department of “trying to sneak this into our neighborhoods in the middle of the night, without input or consent.”
Justice Department officials would not say whether local opposition had anything to do with their decision. But an official statement said it would not solicit bids for the project and that “any decision about accommodating federal detention needs in the Baltimore-Washington region is responsive to the safety and concerns of the community.”
At least one of the potential bidders, Correctional Services Corp., cited community opposition in a December letter in which it pulled out of the project, according to a Jan. 5 statement from Baltimore County officials.
The Justice Department has been seeking bids for a privately built, 1,750-bed jail on one of four possible sites: Cheltenham, Brandywine and East Gate in Prince George’s County, and Dundalk in Baltimore County.
The project was dealt a blow in December, when the state’s two U.S. senators inserted language in the Fiscal 2004 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would have barred the Justice Department from use federal money to build or contract new detention facilities.
That language criticized the way the Justice Department’s Detention Trustee Office determined “detention needs and costs” when it proposed a new jail, as well as the office’s attempt to contract with a private entity to build the facility. The language calls on the office to create a task force to study the need for new prison space and to use existing state, local and private detention sites to build prisons in the future.
The omnibus bill, which includes a half-dozen pending budget bills, will be debated by the Senate when it returns next week.
The news that the prison plan was off the table was celebrated Friday by Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes.
“Working together (with the community), we stopped a maximum-security detention center filled with dangerous criminals from being dumped in our neighborhoods,” Mikulski said in a prepared statement.
A spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson also welcomed the decision. Spokesman Jim Keary said a prison would have endangered citizen safety and hurt the area’s chances for economic development.
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