Jail problems are called exaggerated Few inmates who had no trial dates were held for long.

September 23, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

While one city jail inmate languished for 505 days without a trial date, most of the 69 prisoners held in similar circumstances had been locked up for less than two months when the problem was discovered in July, according to jail records.

Twenty-two of the inmates had been held more than 60 days, including at least nine who had been held more than 120 days, the records showed. Another 23 had been held fewer than 30 days before jail officials discovered they had no trial dates.

The longest an inmate was held without trial date was 505 days, jail officials disclosed last month. The man was released after theft charges against him were dropped.

Officials disclosed in the summer that three inmates had been held for months without trial dates on relatively minor charges. The disclosures generated a storm of criticism and outrage, as well as national publicity.

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said that an average incarceration of 60 days showed that critics and the media had exaggerated problems at the jail.

"I think it just was perceived as much more of a problem than it actually was," Simms said. Inmates such as Martin R. Henn, a homeless man held 13 months without being tried on an arson charge, were an "aberration," Simms said.

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a jail spokesman, said the check of records in July prevented more inmates from languishing for months.

"That is the point that concerns us the most -- that additional offenders would have slipped through the cracks if we hadn't found them and resolved their cases," Sipes said.

"The fact that there were even a handful who were there for months and months without a trial date suggests that there was a big problem," said Stuart Comstock-Gay, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Jail officials released the list of inmates last week -- a month after The Evening Sun filed a freedom of information request to obtain the information.

The list showed that the 69 inmates were being held on a wide variety of charges, ranging from traffic infractions to murder. Jail records incorrectly suggested that another 24 inmates lacked trial dates. Those inmates, however, had either been released or did indeed have a trial scheduled.

State officials, who took over the jail from the city of Baltimore July 1, said the city's records were inadequate and shoddy. The new jail administration ordered a search of the jail's records to identify inmates who were being held without a trial date.

jTC Baltimore Circuit Court Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan said it was inevitable that problems would arise because of a lack of communication between the computer systems used by the state court system and the city jail.

"I think it's a miracle that . . . that's the only problems that really arose," Kaplan said.

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