At least 65 prisoners were being held -- many of them for several months -- without trial dates at the Baltimore city jail, a review of the jail's records showed.
The ongoing review by state officials, which began July 11, will likely find more men who are languishing at the jail without court dates, said LaMont Flanagan, acting commissioner of the state Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, which oversees the jail.
"The criminal justice system throughout the country is so overburdened with cases that it's unavoidable that there will be some people who slip through the cracks," Flanagan said last night. "I don't know if this is the tip of the iceberg. I hope not."
Among the inmates without a trial date was a man who had been held since March 11 on two traffic violations, Flanagan said. His April trial was postponed and officials apparently failed for several months to schedule another one, Flanagan said.
Flanagan could not give details of the traffic charges, although he said they did not include any charge of driving while intoxicated.
Jail officials worked with court officials to arrange court dates for all 65 men, Flanagan said. The man being held on traffic charges is now scheduled to go to court Sept. 12, Flanagan said.
Among the inmates who turned up in the review was Martin R. Henn, a homeless man from Anne Arundel County who was released yesterday after being held for a year at the jail without formal charges or a trial date.
Flanagan said he ordered the records review shortly after the state assumed control of the jail July 1. Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed taking over the jail as a way of easing Baltimore's financial burden.
"The state took over an institution with a plethora of problems -- security, physical plant, overpopulation, record keeping, no creative programs," Flanagan said.
State law gives a defendant the right to a trial no more than 180 days after formal charges are placed. Flanagan's review at the jail focuses on inmates facing major charges who have been held more than 120 days with no court dates scheduled, and pTC inmates facing lesser charges who have been held more than 90 days.
Flanagan said the problems with trial dates "happens when you don't have the adequate procedures to ensure that people are not languishing in a maze of confusion in an incarcerated environment."
The jail, now called the Baltimore City Detention Center, is holding about 2,700 inmates. The population cap imposed by a federal judge is 2,813.
About 85 percent of the inmates at the jail are awaiting trial, according to Leonard A. Sipes, a jail spokesman. The rest are serving time for relatively minor charges.
Problems with escapes, mistaken identities, medical care and drugs plagued city officials in recent years. State officials say they plan major changes at the jail, including improvements to the physical plant. Officials hope to install a computerized fingerprint system next month to keep better track of inmates.