New plans for Supermax emerge
02/08/2011
Baltimore Sun - Online

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State and federal public safety officials are expected to unveil Tuesday details of how a former maximum-security prison in Baltimore will be used to consolidate housing for most of Maryland's federal pretrial detainees who, in the past, had been spread across 18 jails in the Mid-Atlantic region.

As part of the arrangement, the U.S. Department of Justice will contribute an additional $20 million in federal funding to assist in the construction of new minimum-security facilities in Jessup, officials said.

State and federal authorities, including the U.S. Marshals Service, struck a deal to house up to 500 of the 700 estimated federal detainees awaiting trial in Maryland at the state-run Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, officials said. The remaining detainees will continue to be housed in jails across the region with which federal authorities have contracts for bed space.

"It gives us guaranteed bed space right here in downtown Baltimore to support the federal courthouse," said Deputy Marshal Ted Stoler of the agency's Baltimore field office.

Terms of the deal, such as how much the federal government will pay the state for detainee housing and security, were not immediately available Monday. Officials with the state public safety department declined to comment.

For years, the U.S. Department of Justice has rented bed space from jails across the region, in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, to hold those arrested on federal charges and facing trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore or Greenbelt.

But the practice was expensive for federal authorities, who were paying about $200 a night to the state prison system to house and care for hundreds of its detainees at the correctional adjustment center. It was also a logistical headache for the marshals, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys, who often had to travel long distances to visit detainees or escort them to the courthouses in Baltimore or Greenbelt.

The correctional adjustment center, when it housed maximum-security inmates, including those on death row, was known as Supermax. State inmates who were previously housed at Supermax have been moved to other high-security prisons in the state.

State and federal officials have worked on a plan for the past several years to find a permanent home for federal pretrial detainees.

For a time, building a new federal facility in the Baltimore area or in Western Maryland was considered, but the proposals didn't gain traction, according to Maryland's top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

"This is really a win-win solution for all parties," Rosenstein said. "It solves what has been a serious problem for a while."