The opening of four new jails in the Washington area in the last three years has relieved the overcrowding of prisoners there, but local officials say that conditions at other jails remain inadequate and they are worried that the new ones will soon be filled.
Since the end of 1974, Arlington, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties as well as the District of Columbia have opened new jails. A new facility is scheduled to open by year's end in Fairfax County. Prince William County officials have scheduled a referendum so the voters may decide where to build a new $4 million jail.
Sometimes even a new facility has not resolved the overcrowding problems. The new Prince George's jail, which opened only last December, already is holding about 50 more prisoners than the estimated 225 for which it was designed, according to Sheriff Don Edward Ansell. Construction has yet to start on a second facility planned by the county.
In Fairfax, Sheriff James D. Swinson estimates that the new $5.3 million, 228-bed jail now nearing completion would be almost full if it were to hold all the inmates in the old jail and the 61 others he has sent elsewhere for lack of space.
Washington area corrections officials say that among the reasons for the steadily increasing jail population is that more prisoners are unable to raise money for bail bond and thus fact that police are making more arrests.
Swinwon said he was holding 153 prisoners last week in a building designed for 70. "Anytime I get over 150 people I'm hurting," he said. "I just haven't the room to keep them."
Concerned that individual counties will not be able to meet future needs for new jails, Swinson has proposed to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors that it join with other Northern Virginia jurisdictions to study the feasibility of building a jail farm that would house all the all the misdemeanor offenders in the region.
"It's certainly cheaper to build one misdemeanor farm than it is for every jurisdiction to build a new jail or an addition to the present jails," Swinson said.
Prince William County Executive Clinton Mullen said the growth in his county's population, from 35,000 to 140,000 since 1950 when the current jail was built, as the main reason for the increase in crime in his area.
The county jail, originally designed for [WORD ILLEGIBLE] prisoners, as a result currently is holding twice that many, according to Sheriff C.A. Rollins. Asked how many prisoners he could hold, Sheriff Rollins replied: "I can't tell you what the maximum capacity is because I have to keep packing them in as long as the court keeps sending them here."
In addition to population growth [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the increase in the number of prisoners who are unable to gain release on personal bond, local jail officials said the overburdened Maryland and Virginia state prison systems have forced loval jails to house prisoners who would ordinarily be turned on or to the state.
The increase in crime is another factor in at least some areas. In Prince George's County, which continues to have the worst jail overcrowding problem in the metropolitan area, county police say that most major crimes are up for the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 1976.
According to county police, the number of murders has remained the same but the number of rapes is up by more than 36 per cent, robberies by 7 per cent, and buglaries by 4.4 per cent. The number of assults, is down from last year by 14.5 per cent and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by 4.1 per cent.
With the exception of Prince George's County, the other new jails in the Washington area seemingly have managed to cope with the increasing prison population and demand for services from inmates.
In Arlington, the first jurisdiction in the area to open a new jail, Sheriff J. Elwood Clements said the 2 1/2 year old institution is "holding up pretty well."
Clements said the jail was designed for his prisoners, but that by also using the holding and receiving cells he can house up to 154 for a day or two [WORD ILLEGIBLE] he currently is holding about 35 state prisoners, six federal inmates and a number of Fairfax County [WORD ILLEGIBLE] or convicts.
"We've had to cut back on both the nugaber of Fairfax and federal prisoners because we've had more arrests here," Clements said. "I can remember when the prison population was 80, now it's 110."
The new prison includes a gymnasium and an outdoor recreation area. Living quarters are divided into dormitary-like rooms for medium security prisoners and individual cells for men held in the maximum security area.
Clements said that the added privacy had dramatically cut the number of assults among prisoners. The new facility includes a library and other recreation and visiting rooms.
The District Columbia opened a new 960-bed facility in April, 1976, and an additional correction center with 400 cells is being planned, according to Arthur Vis, executive assistant to the superintendent of detention services. Vis said 838 prisoners currently are housed in the new jail, while a court order has restricted to 400 the number of men that can be housed in the old city jail.
Montgomery County is in the process of completing a major jail complex. When finished, the facility will house more than 300 inmates, according to Gary Blake, the director of the Montgomery Detention Center.
"You hope it's going to resolve you immediate problems," Blake said of the new jail. "I can't predict the increase in crime or the number of inmates we'll have in the future." The jail currently houses 220 prisoners.
The overall project, which will include a 24-bed women's unit and an outside recreation area, will cost about $4.9 million , according to Blake. There also is enough room on the site to build an additional wing.
In Alexandria, jail conditions also have been improved significantly following a lowsuit against the city last year a group of inmates. Without formally saying so, the city basically agreed that conditions at the jail were poor and under a court order, has appropriated $175,000 to carry out extensive renovations of the building.
Even before the court order, the city last February took out 90 bunks from the cells and transferred 90 men to state correction facilities.
"The city took a very progressive stance and so did the state on this." said Mervin Miller, the inmates' attorney in the case.
Five men now live in each cell block at the jail, compared to the 10 who previously shared the space. Each block consists of five individual cells with a toilet and a cold water wash basin.
"I think most of all you like your privacy at night," said Richard Blaks, 34, who is serving time for violation of federal probation. "If you're going to be in a cell you'd rather be in there by yourself rather than being afraid of being attacked by some fool thinking you are something funny."
The city's chief correctional officer, Capt. Charles C. Fox, said the jail's population was reduced from 220 to 117 prisoners. He estimated the average number of inmates at between 100 and 107, but added that on some weekends there may be as many as 115 men incarcerated.
"It's getting tight," he said.