Warden of new booking unit to focus on 'basics'

May 13, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Criminal suspects who wind up at Baltimore's new central booking unit will be fingerprinted electronically, appear for bail reviews by video and, if necessary, learn to eat with a knife and fork.

"I don't see any reason why we can't teach somebody to sit down and eat in a manner that's socially acceptable," said Alfred I. Murphy, 47, warden of the Baltimore City Detention Center booking unit, due to open alongside the Jones Fall Expressway in July 1995.

Asked if it was realistic to expect prisoners to care about table etiquette, Mr. Murphy leaned forward on his desk and said, without humor: "Let me tell you something, my friend, I've been in corrections a long time, and no one has ever had a problem understanding what I mean."

That's the attitude beneath the good-guy affability Mr. Murphy will bring to a $42 million facility seen as the jewel of Maryland's current prison construction program.

"Al's very self-assured. He knows what he wants and knows how to get it done," said Linda D'Amario Rossi, who was secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services when Mr. Murphy ran the state's Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for juvenile offenders from 1989 to 1991.

"He understands the big picture, but he also believes in the basics -- whether it's teaching someone to read or teaching them how to eat. He'll bring his ego to the job."

While overseeing the 811-bed prison, Mr. Murphy hopes to speed up a cumbersome booking process and train a new generation of prison wardens from the ranks of correctional officers.

Corrections is a "growth industry," says the 25-year prisons veteran, who has a son and daughter in the profession. A Vietnam veteran, Mr. Murphy worked his way up from guard to private consultant before taking his current, $65,000-a-year job in March.

"The best thing about this building is that it will put more police on the street for a reasonable amount of money," Mr. Murphy said in an interview yesterday.

Currently, suspects arrested in Baltimore are taken to one of nine district police stations to be booked and fingerprinted before seeing a court commissioner. If bail is denied, they wait to be taken to court for a review.

Because everything will be done in one place once the new building opens -- and bail reviews will be conducted by video monitor -- authorities are predicting that each officer will get back into patrol service a half-hour earlier.

Since Baltimore conducts about 70,000 bookings a year, Mr. Murphy expects the city to benefit from 35,000 extra hours of police protection.

"The best thing we can do is move the numbers quickly, review the numbers quickly and start thinking about how we're going to get those numbers down," said Mr. Murphy, who has done work at 50 prisons around the country.

"I know this is a short-term facility, it's a 'hi and bye' prison, and I'm not going to be able to turn anyone into an Israeli fighter pilot. But we can provide detoxification, three square meals a day, get them cleaned up and try to prepare them for whatever comes next.

"I like [prison] facilities -- I like them clean, and I like talking to the inmates. And no matter how well this building is built -- and it's state of the art -- it's only going to work as well as it's operated."

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