Jail addition to use latest in computer tracking

December 17, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Baltimore's new jail facility will be nearly three football fields long and will have a computer containing "cradle-to-grave" information about a prisoner's criminal, employment and family history, a state correctional official said yesterday.

"We're not just talking about a building. We're talking about a philosophy, a fundamentally different way of managing the justice system," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state Division of Correction.

The 800-bed addition, which will cost between $44 and $47 million, will be built just west of the existing Baltimore City Detention Center on Eager Street near the Jones Falls Expressway.

Construction is to begin early next year and will be completed in late 1994.

Mr. Sipes said the "Offender-Based Information System" in the new facility will offer not only a host of computer data about the prisoner, but also will allow the arresting officer to complete the booking process in record time.

Bail review hearings will be done by closed circuit television, fingerprints will be taken by a computer hand-scan and matched against unsolved case files, and detailed personal histories can be accessed by the computer, Mr. Sipes said.

"It's a virtual paperless system. We estimate it will be less than half an hour before the officer returns to the street," in comparison to the minimum of 60 to 90 minutes it usually takes now, Mr. Sipes said.

The building, which will measure more than 800 feet long and 100 feet wide, was designed by the Baltimore firm of Smeallie, Orrick and Janka Ltd. and the Washington firm of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, which has designed numerous other detention centers across the country.

"I don't think there's been another project like this in the country," said John R. Orrick, chairman of Smeallie, Orrick and Janka.

It is the first time that virtually all information on criminals -- kept by a variety of law enforcement agencies -- will be available under one roof, correctional officials said.

The system will take a computerized fingerprint by placing the prisoner's hand on a scanning window. It will instantly check the prisoner's name against missing persons reports, criminal records and prior prison records, Mr. Sipes said.

The building will also have its own infirmary, unlike the existing jail, so correctional officers will no longer have to transport prisoners to the hospital for minor injuries, Mr. Sipes said.

Each inmate at the facility will be given a bracelet with a bar code and correctional officers will be given a bar-code reader that shows where prisoners are at all times.

Other information available by the computer includes alcohol and substance abuse histories, educational background and an employment history, Mr. Sipes said.

"It will all be in the computer, cutting down the officer's time to research that information," he said. "The cost savings, conservatively estimated, will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

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