By most accounts, last week's sneak preview of the new modular housing units at the Montgomery County Detention Center was a success.

"We got our money's worth," said a beaming Calvin A. Lightfoot, director of the county's Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. "The county should be proud."

While construction workers labored under a hot sun, about 15 reporters were given an advance tour on July 19 of one of the six new concrete modular housing units designed to relieve severe crowding at the county's main jail.

The county jail, designed to hold 500 inmates, has housed as many as 839 inmates during the last year.

In May, the average daily inmate population was about 650, county officials said.

When the new $7 million modular housing units are officially unveiled next month, 180 additional cells will be ready for 330 inmates.

The first group of inmates is scheduled to be moved into the new units on Seven Locks Road in early September, Lightfoot said.

The newer, larger units will be reserved for minimum-security inmates who have demonstrated self-discipline and require minimal supervision, Lightfoot said.

"It will be like signing a contract," Lightfoot said. "If they violate the rules, they are gone" back to the more restrictive environment in the county's main jail, he said.

For those inmates on good behavior, the new units will be quite a treat.

The 8-by-10-foot cells are larger than the standard, 70-square-foot cells in the older part of the county jail, said corrections officer Lt. Col. Al Hanulik. Each modular housing unit will contain 30 cells, except one 30-bed crisis intervention unit for inmates with substance abuse or mental problems.

The double-bunk cells in the gray-and-white modular housing units are furnished with porcelain sinks and toilets and a small metal table with stools. A small vertical window helps illuminate the cell.

The partly carpeted common areas in the two-story modular units include plastic chairs and butcher-block wood tables. An electronically controlled security console panel rests in the middle of the ground floor.

One corrections officer will provide direct supervision in each of the modular housing units, Lightfoot said. That new concept in jail management helps create a more humane environment, he said.

All of the modular housing units are connected by a hallway to the main jail for additional security, Hanulik said.

In addition, corrections supervisors will randomly monitor the units for increased safety, he said.

Lightfoot said modular construction of the units accelerated the project's completion.

"If this was stick-built from the ground up, it would have taken another year to complete," Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said the new modular housing units are part of an expanded, improved corrections system being developed in Montgomery County.

By 1995, the county plans to build a new $88 million jail on Route 121 in Clarksburg that will house 1,200 to 1,600 inmates. The state has approved $3.5 million in matching funds for design work on the jail project.

But Lightfoot said building more jail cells won't solve many of the pressing human needs of the criminal justice system.

"We can't build our way out of the problem," he said. "We must for the public safety and the taxpayers' sake develop other ways to address the problem."

About a month ago, the county launched a home electronic monitoring program called CATS, Community Accountability and Treatment Services

Six people are enrolled in the program, which is open to inmates with minimum sentences of 90 days, said correction department spokesman Chuck Hessling.

Later this year, the correction department plans to start a pre-trial release program that will help judges in determining release conditions for inmates and increase supervision of suspects awaiting trial.

The state has approved $500,000 for the pilot program, Hessling said.