Judge orders Baltimore City prison to produce plan for improvement

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Saturday, July 2, 2005

A city Circuit Court judge in Baltimore, Maryland, John M. Glynn, ordered state corrections officials on Friday to produce in 30 days a written report that will outline plans to reduce over crowding and slow processing times at the city's Central Booking and Intake Center. The state-run facility is a centralized jail designed to process arrests made by all city police precincts and is the gateway into the criminal justice system of suspects taken into custody in the city of 640,000 people.

In the last 3 months, over 80 arrestees were released from the Central Booking facility without being formally charged. In April this year, a temporary restaining order was issued by Judge Glynn against the facility to enforce the release of those held more than 24 hours after their intake who did not receive a hearing by a court commissioner. The commissioner sets bail, if granted, and formalizes the charges filed by the arresting officer. The charges are then entered into the state's computer system where the case is tracked. The hearing also marks the date for the suspect’s right to a speedy trial.

The Friday hearing was called after the city mayor’s office of Martin O'Malley filed a motion to join a lawsuit that was brought by public defenders on behalf of those criminally detained at the facility. In Maryland, a hearing with a court commissioner within 24 hours of being arrested is state law. Judge Glynn presided over that lawsuit which led to the temporary restraining order. The order is to remain in effect until November.

Aides to O’Malley are seeking help from his court to implement and then monitor procedural changes at Central Booking, and made sharp criticisms of state public safety officials. One mayor’s aide said, ”We continue to offer management solutions, and they are accepted. But you know what? I don’t have time to run [Central Booking], nor does the police department.”

Judge Glynn expressed concern during the hearing that a purely judicial remedy may not be the answer, and said, “If I find that it is a hopeless disaster… what can I do about that?” He peppered parties to the suit with questions and suggested there is the possibility that political action, not court intervention, may be needed to solve what city and police officials call inefficient management practices by the state.

Glynn also requested parties to the suit to report back on what happened to the 80+ arrestees who were released so far as a result of the restraining order. The suspect could be re-arrested if officers knew the circumstances of the release, but police say that would take time and money to work out. An arrestee released without seeing a court commissioner has as the only record of the offense the hand written charging document by the officer.

The Maryland attorney general’s office representing the corrections officers said at the hearing that city police are part of the problem by not filing charging documents at Central Booking when the arrestee is delivered and processing begins. The state must accept the prisoners, but cannot move forward without the necessary documents. They also say city police sometimes flood the facility, which can create temporary backlogs.

Central Booking was designed to process 60,000 suspects a year, but currently handles nearly 100,000. It was built to accommodate 900 people at any one time, but normally crowds in 1,200. Arrestees describe conditions in holding cells with no room to sit on the floor, and being crammed in with people who suffer with health problems or drug addicts who vomit from withdrawal.