City jail controls tightened Impostor inmate remains at large

December 28, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

The Baltimore City Detention Center was using new procedures to identify inmates yesterday because a prisoner being held on federal drug charges posed as another inmate and talked his way out of the jail on Christmas Day.

Roland L. Campbell presented himself to jail officials as a prisoner named Corey Ford, who was due to be released. Campbell passed the screening tests, procedures that included comparing Campbell to the photograph kept in Ford's file and asking him 10 questions, including such personal information as a Social Security number and a mother's maiden name.

He was the second inmate to be released by mistake since the state took over and renamed the old Baltimore City Jail July 1.

But since Campbell's escape, new steps have been added to the release process, said LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

"We have taken some interim measures so we can rely less on human judgment," Mr. Flanagan said. "It is incumbent upon the state to have a number of mechanisms to assure the public safety. The inmates spend their time trying to subvert the system."

Now, instead of black-and-white photographs, color pictures will be included in inmates' files to allow for better identification. Color "manifests more details," Mr. Flanagan said. And any release must be verified and approved by a supervisor before the paperwork can be completed, the commissioner added.

Besides the 10-question screening test, each inmate now will be asked questions from his medical file. "Medical personnel will ask questions only the inmate will know the answers to," Mr. Flanagan said.

Jail officials also will use a height chart to compare the inmate's height to that listed in the file.

Those additional steps in the process should prevent any more mistaken releases until a new bracelet identification system and a fingerprint verification computer are in place, Mr. Flanagan said. Both systems -- the bracelets, which Mr. Flanagan described as "low-tech," and the high-tech computer -- were delayed by unforeseen problems.

The color-coded bracelets -- simple plastic wristlets similar to hospital identification bracelets -- turned out to be unreliable when they became brittle and broke after they were worn through a few showers, Mr. Flanagan said.

Jail officials had begun distributing the identification bracelets in late summer in an effort to cut down on the mistaken releases that had plagued the old City Jail.

Once snapped onto an inmate's wrist, the bracelet could not be removed and transferred to another inmate, jail officials said. Any inmate found without a bracelet would face punishment.

But within weeks of beginning the program, jail officials found the plastic bracelets were "breaking on the arm," Mr. Flanagan said. "The inmates were coming to us and saying, 'Look at this.' "

After buying $12,000 worth of bracelets from M C Industries, a Kansas firm, jail officials discontinued the program until the state could write new specifications and find a new supplier.

By Feb. 1, 34,000 new bracelets, called "the clincher," are to be delivered from Precision Dynamics, a California firm, according to Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services. The new supply will cost $34,000, he said.

Meanwhile, the computerized fingerprint identification system, called AFFIRM, was troubled by electronic glitches, such as problems with the telephone cables connected to it, Mr. Flanagan said.

"We never formally introduced nor demonstrated the AFFIRM system," the commissioner added. "We continually had technical difficulties with it." But after months of work, technicians assure that AFFIRM will be verifying fingerprints within two weeks, Mr. Flanagan said.

Campbell, the inmate whose escape prompted the new procedures, remained at large last night. Andrew Manning, an FBI spokesman, said the search for him continued and, because Campbell is from New York, "chances are pretty good he's outside the state."

The investigative unit of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was reviewing how jail officials came to release Campbell, Mr. Sipes said. Mr. Flanagan said he expected a report next week.

Investigators also have questioned Ford, the inmate whose identity Campbell borrowed. Mr. Flanagan said the two men were housed near each other and apparently rehearsed together so that Campbell could recite details found in Ford's file.

"I'm quite sure that if criminal collusion is found in aiding and abetting an escape, that criminal charges would be brought" against Ford, Mr. Sipes said.

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