A Montgomery County grand jury investigation has found that local corrections facilities are old and in disrepair.
The grand jury also questioned the pressure on inmates to find jobs as they leave jail and challenged the mindset of longtime employees.
County officials concurred with some findings, such as the need for improvements to buildings, but strongly contested others.
The grand jury investigation occurs annually and the findings are forwarded to the Montgomery County Council.
This year’s report said the Montgomery County Detention Center at Seven Locks — the central processing unit for arrests — is “old and deteriorating.”
“It would be helpful to officers to add security features such as cameras and mirrors,” the report said, recommending the construction of a new facility “as soon as possible.”
“The building is ancient and all agree it needs replacement,” said Correction and Rehabilitation Director Arthur Wallenstein, adding that a new facility was already planned, but, “We are fully operational with no impediments to MCDC operations.”
The grand jury also found several positives in the county’s correctional system, commenting that local prisoners have access to excellent health care, job training and education.
“Prisoners in this county serving a sentence of less than 18 months are lucky to be incarcerated here, where they have opportunities to better themselves while incarcerated ...,” the report stated.
The report praised the quality of the staff at the different facilities, saying, “The demeanor of the officers and staff produces a much less tense environment for both the officers and the inmates.”
In addition to the detention center, the study focused on the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Clarksburg and the county’s Pre-Release and Re-Entry Services facility in Rockville.
The report found that the design of the detention center led to “stifling hot conditions” in some parts of the facility in the summer months, and that one of the facility’s housing pods was “unusable” because of a roof leak.
The facility has a capacity of 200 inmates, but currently houses fewer than 130, Wallenstein said.
The grand jury said the county’s Pre-Release and Re-entry Services facility — an airy building on Nebel Road in Rockville — was in a state of “near disrepair.”
The report found the county’s jail in Clarksburg to be in “excellent condition” and “well maintained.”
At the facility on Thursday, Pre-Release and Re-Entry Services Chief Stefan LoBuglio called the grand jury’s assessment of the facility “hyperbole.”
Improvements that were planned before the investigation were underway Thursday, as a construction crew installed ramps and other items to help make the facility handicapped accessible.
Some air conditioners, locks and bathrooms need to be upgraded or replaced, LoBuglio said, adding that about $50,000 of improvements to the facility’s air conditioners would occur in the next few days.
The building has had about 17,000 residents over the last 35 years and gets “a lot of wear and tear,” LoBuglio said.
It is audited every three years by two separate agencies, as well as four times a year by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other inspecting officials, he said. “Our building is a well-designed building,” he said.
The economic downturn forced the program to defer some maintenance. “We just haven’t recovered yet,” he said.
The grand jury’s report also questioned why the pre-release facility only gave inmates 28 days to find a job after they arrive. Specially approved inmates arrive at the center as they near the end of their jail terms, and generally are given a month to find a job with assistance from staff. They stay at the center for an average of three to four months, Wallenstein said.
“Given the state of the economy, it is unreasonable to expect that residents can find gainful employment within such a short time,” the report stated.
The report also said that workers at the pre-release facility had a “We know what we are doing” culture among long-time corrections employees.
“This has resulted in a lack of fresh perspective,” the report said.
Corrections and rehabilitations officials disputed those findings, as well.
“Inmates are sent to the pre-release center to gain work, and everything in that program is focused on their return to the community — but not in a state of unemployment,” Wallenstein said, adding, “We just flat out disagree in total with that grand jury suggestion that we are too tough or push too hard for a job in 28 days in Montgomery County.”
“It’s very strict. It holds you accountable for everything,” said Thomas Chatmon, 49, an inmate at the pre-release center finishing a 10-year federal prison sentence. The program helped him learn computer skills and kept him focused on the goals he first made when he entered the facility several months ago, he said.
Prison, he said, “was almost like being spiritually and mentally dead. ... Coming to the PRC was like the beginning of life again.”