The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week refused a request from Sheriff James D. Swinson that a special computer system be installed in the new county jail to keep track of inmates.

The issue absorbed about an hour of the supervisors' first meeting this week following their six-week summer recess.

"I'm startled that we are making a major issue out of this project," said Supervisor Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield), who later voted to put the computer system in the jail.

Swinson said he didn't know whether a continuing investigation into his alleged misuse of jail inmates had anything to do with the supervisor's refusal to allow him to install the computer system.

"All I know is that the jail needs to be computerized," Swinson said. "And their (the supervisors) decision was a terrible mistake."

The supervisors voted 5-4 against the system, with opponents saying they felt it was unnecessary and would be too expensive to maintain in the future.

The system would have catalogued names and other pertinent information of all inmates and made it possible for authorized jail employes to retrieve that information "at any time of the day or night," according to Swinson. The system would have been paid for with a $40,000 grant from the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA).

"This is freebee," Swinson told the board in making his pitch for the system. "I don't see how we can lose on a deal like this. If it doesn't work, if we don't like it, then we can get rid of it at the end of a year. It's as simple as that."

But county computer experts in the Office of Research and Statistics argued that existing computer capability in Fairfax could serve the sheriff's needs "better and more cheaply," according to Mary Elizabeth Holbein, director of the office. She added, however, that changing the way the jail presently accounts for prisoners would be preferable to computerizing jail records.

Holbein said it would cost the county $9,557 to provide maintenance and other support for the support during its first year of operation. The LEAA grant would have paid for a private consulting group called Search, Inc. to install the system, and also would have paid for computer equipment and associated software, like individual computer programs.

Swinson aruged that after a routine inspection of the jail three months ago, the state had directed him to hire another clerk to help with jail records. He said that with the computerized system he would not need to hire the person, who would be paid an annual salary of uapproximately $9,000.

After listening to opposing views from Holbein and Swinson on the need for computerizing jail records, the supervisors finally supported Holbein's arguments. Board Chairman John F. Herrity and supervisors Joesph Alexander (D-Lee) and John P. Shacochis (R-Dranesville) joined Travesky in supporting the sheriff's request for the system.

The board also directed Office of Research and Statistics to come up with away to help Swinson streamline record-keeping in the jail that would prevent the sheriff from having to hire another clerk.