Judicial Speedup Sought

Consultant's Ideas Debated By Officials

June 05, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Carroll and state officials want to streamline the court system, butlegal requirements and rights of the accused could stand in the way.

County state's attorneys, Parole and Probation and detention center officials and Administrative Circuit Judge Raymond Beck met with two County Commissioners and a private consultant yesterday to look atways the system might be improved.

They found that Carroll has made efforts to make the courts run more efficiently by working with first offenders and by increasing cooperation between county agencies.

But Beck said that while it is important to look at new ideas, the biggest problem in Carroll is not inefficiency.

"We are getting hit with sheer numbers here," said Beck. "This county's growing at a rapid rate, and we have to be prepared for the crime that goes with it." William Lamb, a private consultant who recently completed a statewide assessment of pretrial servicesfor the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, was asked by Commissioner President Donald I. Dell to share ideas with thegroup.

The statewide study, which looks at each county's criminaljustice needs, is expected to be released by the end of July, said Steve Bocian, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Justice Assistance.

Lamb distributed a 15-point list of suggestions for simplifying the court system without sacrificing public safety.

The listincluded the use of citations for lesser crimes, sentencing only minimum-security prisoners to local detention centers and instituting anarbitration board to settle disputes and minor crimes.

Many in the group said they were concerned that many suggestions required the hiring of more staff.

"The suggestions are people-intensive," said Lamb. "But these tactics may save time and money in the court system.It's all a question of where you want to spend your money. We know it costs a lot more money to put someone in jail for a week or a month."

Beck said sometimes he prefers sending people to jail for shockvalue. He doesn't allow attorneys to use the term "simple possession" when talking about drugs, and all drug offenders go to jail.

"Even if it's just for a day," said Beck. "I'll sentence them to five years and then bring them back the next day and modify it. The shock effect sometimes works."

He said that while it might be cumbersome to handle cases that way, it often prevents offenders from coming backinto the system.

A suggestion that court officials research pre-sentence investigation reports while defendants await trial in the detention center brought skepticism from the group.

"There is a definite connotation that in doing a PSI (pre-sentence investigation) you are assuming that someone is guilty before they have a trial," said Parole and Probation Supervisor Charles Stull.

Lamb countered that an investigation similar to a PSI could be done by a qualified personwhen an inmate enters the detention center.

Many accused of crimes cannot afford to post bail money and are kept at the detention center until trial. Postponements and other delays can keep a defendant awaiting trial for several months.

Stull said it usually takes 45 days for a PSI to be completed and sent back to the judge for sentencing.

Jail officials have said it costs at least $45 per day to keepan inmate at the detention center.

Stull, Beck and Deputy State'sAttorney Edward Ulsch said they were skeptical of the proposal. Theycited a shortage of parole and probation officers and the officers' heavy workload.

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