City jail using wristbands to keep track of prisoners

September 19, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

In the Baltimore Detention Center's protective-custody area yesterday, jail officials fastened red plastic bands on the wrists of 68 prisoners. The bands are a new identification system meant to improve security at the troubled, renamed city jail.

Until now, jail officials said, inmates carried no identification and guards had no way of telling quickly if an inmate was in a place he shouldn't be. Now, by looking at the color-coded wristband, guards will know where the inmate is assigned.

The program is the state's latest effort to tighten control at the former Baltimore City Jail, which has been plagued through the years by escapes, mistaken releases and administrative mix-ups that left some inmates languishing for months without trial dates.

The identification wristbands are decidedly low-tech, jail officials said. The plastic bracelets, which are snapped onto inmates' wrists, can easily be removed, said LaMont Flanagan, new commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services. But once they're taken off, the wristbands cannot be refastened. Any inmate found without one will face administrative charges.

Mr. Flanagan said that it will take weeks before all inmates receive wristbands. First, jail officers must establish the prisoner's identity. "It's no sense, our putting a wristband on the wrong person," he said. New arrivals will be wearing white wristbands, which they will receive when they leave the city's police districtsfor the trip to the jail. Monday, police officers at the Central and Southeastern districts began using the wristbands, and other districts are expected to follow in a few weeks.

The wristbands are just one of several new security measures taken since the state took over the jail from the city July 1.

Mr. Flanagan said that Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Corrections Secretary Bishop L. Robinson directed him to "intoxicate this facility with maximum security and account for all the prisoners who are housed here."

Besides the wristbands, jail officials have replaced barbed wire with razor wire, have added mesh screens to wire fences to make them more difficult to climb and are preparing a new computerized fingerprint system.

And officials will be taking more time to clear prisoners who are leaving the jail.

"It will be a very slow, very painstaking process" that aims to make sure the correct person is being freed, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

Inmates will be identified by fingerprints, photos, two computer files and an administrative file before leaving.

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