Officials point fingers after jail problems Blame is tossed all around for "lost" inmates.

August 16, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff Raymond L. Sanchez contributed to this story.

While Baltimore jail officials continued to account for prisoners being held without trial dates, judicial officials and politicians were busy pointing fingers at each other.

State officials at the Baltimore City Detention Center have now scheduled court dates for 76 prisoners who were being held without trial dates, a spokesman said yesterday. About another dozen inmates are expected to receive trial dates soon.

Problems with records at the jail surfaced with the release this week of Martin R. Henn, 54, of Anne Arundel County, who had been held in the jail for about 13 months without a trial or formal charges.

A month-long search of records at the jail has turned up at least HTC two inmates who appear to have been held as long as Henn without trial dates, according to spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr.

State officials at the jail declined yesterday to release a list of the inmates they found lacking trial dates. They also could not provide information about how long the inmates had been held so it remained unclear whether any of the inmates may have been denied their constitutional right to a speedy trial, according to officials familiar with the situation.

Public defenders, who represent the vast majority of jail inmates, plan to meet Monday with jail officials to go over the list of men who were lacking trial dates, according to Joy L. Phillips, chief of the Baltimore public defender's office.

State officials are blaming the city regime that turned over the jail to the state July 1. Acting jail commissioner LaMont Flanagan has vowed to make major changes in jail procedures.

Some other judicial officials said the problem was simply a symptom of a legal system swamped with too many defendants.

"Regardless of who manages a jail facility, problems with the criminal justice system are just tremendous," said Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms. "The same issues that afflict us today afflicted us yesterday. We're trying to do a 1990s job with a 1950s chassis."

Baltimore Circuit Court Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan said he is not sure that the news of missing court dates is a major concern. At any time, the jail may hold 200 inmates who are without court dates simply because of the large number of inmates flowing into the jail every day, Kaplan said.

The jail issue entered the mayoral race last night, as the two chief Democratic challengers to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke criticized his running of the jail before the state assumed control July 1.

"A poor man spends a year at the city jail without a trial," former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns said at a candidates forum in northwest Baltimore. "When you look at things like that, you have to blame somebody."

"It shows the administration's complete mismanagement of the jail system," said candidate William A. Swisher, former Baltimore state's attorney. "[The inmates'] civil and constitutional rights were violated."

Schmoke said the jail's problems could not be blamed on the city alone.

"A lot of people are pointing fingers, trying to oversimplify the problem," Schmoke said. "What happened at the jail is an example of a criminal justice system breakdown."

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