To reduce the population at the Baltimore City Detention Center, officials plan for the first time to release persons who are awaiting trial for non-violent crimes and supervise them through the state's electronic monitoring program.
When the state agreed earlier this year to take over the Baltimore City Jail, it made sure it had the legal authority to electronically monitor pretrial inmates at their homes -- something the administration of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had tried unsuccessfully to do in the past -- to relieve overcrowding at the turn-of-the-century facility. The city's home detention program held only convicted criminals serving sentences.
A legislative committee is reviewing the proposed criteria for selecting pretrial inmates for the state's home monitoring program. If approved, it will mark the first time in Maryland that persons awaiting trial would be placed in a home detention program.
Under the proposed guidelines, anyone charged with a crime involving a firearm, serious injury to a victim, drug offense or child abuse will be excluded from the program. Persons who served a sentence for a previous crime within the past three years also would be ineligible for the program.
Only the following persons will be considered: those who have been charged with a non-violent crime, have a bond of $15,000 or less, a residence approved by program staffers and no prior history of escape.
If needed, the state will have to pay the normal $9.50 per month cost of a telephone line, which is necessary to operate the monitoring equipment. That charge is a lot less than the $52 a day it costs the state to keep an offender in jail while he awaits trial, said LaMont Flanagan, the acting commissioner of the state agency that oversees the detention center. The state began operating the former Baltimore City Jail on July 1.
"This is an alternative to incarceration for select pretrial inmates who are charged with the commission of non-violent crimes," said Mr. Flanagan. "Safety of the community is the focal point in using an alternative type of incarceration. With the proper screening of the defendants who are minimum risk, home detention has proven to be a viable mechanism for jail population control and the promotion of community safety."
As part of the supervision, staffers also visit the home once a week and the workplace once every two weeks, he said. The inmate must report weekly for counseling and submit to routine, random drug and alcohol testing and verify their employment weekly by submitting proof of their paychecks.
Mr. Flanagan could not say how many of the approximately 2,778 inmates now at the detention center might be eligible for the program, although he has the equipment to handle 300 people.
The monitoring works this way: A central computer is linked through the phone lines to an ankle bracelet worn by the inmate. The computer calls and if the person is not there, the program staff is alerted immediately, said Mr. Flanagan. The ankle bracelet cannot be removed.
In the past, the District Court judges in Baltimore were reluctant to place offenders on the home monitoring program operated by the city when it was in control of the jail. Some expressly barred inmates from it.
Mr. Flanagan said the criteria for the state program is more stringent and the supervision more intense.
But he noted that "if a judge feels that a person is a high risk, and says I don't want him on electronic monitoring, I'm sure we would all be in accord with that."
The Baltimore City Detention Center is under a long-standing federal court order to keep the jail population under a specific limit. The present population cap is 2813.