Criticism of the county commissioners for deep sixing the jail expansion and concerns about the increased number of heroin overdose deaths highlighted St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron’s unveiling of his preliminary budget to his Citizens Advisory Committee. The meeting Thursday at the county commissioners’ hearing room at the Governmental Center in Leonardtown featured presentations by each of the sheriff’s division commanders. Cameron said he had not made any changes to those requests for the meeting but would begin to review them in preparation for his budget submission to the commissioners, which is due this Friday, February 7th.
The Commander of the Corrections Division Captain Michael Merican said the current jail’s capacity is 230 inmates, but national standards say the capacity shouldn’t be exceeded on average by 80 percent of that. On December 5, 2013 the jail had 236 inmates, of which 54 percent had mental health problems. Those problems put a particular stress on the correctional officers, according to Merican.
Merican said the county shelved the proposed $35 million jail expansion, of which the state would have paid half, or $17.5 million in favor of a $15.3 million renovation of the existing building, or a $2.3 million difference. Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman John Hogg said, “I am dumfounded that we can spent $15.3 million to repair and renovate the jail when we could have spent an additional $2.3 million for a brand new jail. I don’t understand the thought process behind that.” Several other board members expressed similar concerns about the decision.
Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell cast the tie breaking vote for the renovation. Merican said of the commissioners’ decision: “The county plan completely disregards our correctional staff needs.”
Commander of the Vice/Narcotics Division Captain Daniel Alioto talked about the alarming trend of heroin overdose deaths in the county. There were five last year and three so far this year, compared to none in 2011. Merican explained that the clampdown on prescription drug abuse has led to a migration to heroin. Alioto said, “Heroin is stronger, cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription medication.”
Hogg said upon hearing the statistics, “That is very alarming to me.” Cameron said the issue was much more than just a law enforcement issue; it is a public health issue. He said “Everybody knows somebody” speaking of the overdose deaths. Parents are the anti-drug,” he said in offering a solution.
Alioto also talked about his department’s responsibilities in cases involving child exploitation, prostitution and human trafficking, and casino gambling.
The presentations from the var