Feds to pay $20M toward 2 Md. prisons

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - The federal government will pay $20 million toward the cost of two new minimum-security state prisons in Jessup. That's in return for exclusive use of the former Supermax prison in Baltimore to house pretrial federal detainees, officials said Tuesday.

The deal trims the state's cost for the new prisons to $26 million. It also requires the federal Office of the Federal Detention Trustee to pay the wages of state workers running the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, also called Supermax.

Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard called it smart government.

"Multiple agencies benefit, and taxpayers will not have to pay the entire bill for desperately needed minimum-security bed space," Maynard said in a news release.

The arrangement solves two nagging correctional problems. It gives the U.S. Marshal Service about 500 beds in Baltimore for pretrial defendants previously housed in state and county jails in multiple states. The marshals have leased up to half the space at Supermax since at least 2010 as the state moved maximum-security inmates to newer prisons in western Maryland.

"It solves our foreseeable detention needs for Baltimore," said Lynzey Donahue, a spokeswoman in Washington for the marshals service.

The deal also helps the state build more minimum-security prisons that are needed as inmates move through the system toward release. Public safety spokesman Mark Vernarelli said the agency identified a bulge more than five years ago in the number of inmates, both male and female, nearing their release dates.

"Our minimal-security facilities are almost always full," he said.

The state began budgeting two years ago for construction of the new minimum-security lockups. Vernarelli said the federal money will help the state complete both prisons in about two years, adding 1,120 beds to the system.

He said the prisons will be built on an existing parcel of state-owned land among five other correctional facilities in Jessup.

The problem of housing pretrial federal detainees isn't limited to Maryland. Donahue said the marshals have an average of 37,364 prisoners per day in custody in state and local facilities.