The Prince George's County Council voted yesterday to place a controversial work-release center for prisoners in the Hampton Industrial Park of Central Avenue after Maryland officials threatened to choose a location for the facility.
Prince George's and all other counties in the state were ordered nearly six years ago to establish such centers, where prisoners convicted of misdemeanors would be confined at night while holding outside jobs during the day.
Prince George's was the last jurisdiction to comply with the state order and did so only after state correctional officials told the county last month that a decision had to be made by Aug. 1 or the state would choose a location.
County officials had been unable to agree on a location for the facility because of intense opposition by county residents concerned about having the work-release program and prisoners located near their homes. The facility is planned for 108 persons convicted of such crimes as shoplifting, drunken driving and nonsupport.
The council's 8-to-2 vote yesterday followed an emotional public hearing last week at which some 100 residents opposed four sites under consideration, including the Hampton Industrial Park location.
In voting for the Hampton site, council members said it has the best access to transportation and centrally located but also somewhat isolated from residential developments.
Council member Ann Lombardi, who led the vote in favor of the center, said, "We're not putting rapists in anybody's community. We're not building watchtowers that will cast shadows on anyone's home." If the council refused to make a decision on a location for the center, Lombardi said, the state would.
Council member Sue Mills, who voted against any site for the center, said, "We are not just selecting a site, we are condoning a program without even a whimper. This is an unproven program and we are asking our citizens to be guinea pigs."
Council officials said similar programs have been operating successfully throughout the state for several years. The officials also said that the county will set up a citizens advisory board of Hampton area residents to help corrections officials draw up guidelines for deciding which prisoners will be admitted to the work-release program. Construction on the center is expected to begin this fall, officials said.