An internal audit of an unusual Baltimore court program that monitors criminals in the community has found such "far-reaching deficiencies" that they posed a potential threat to public safety.
A legislator who learned of the results yesterday called for the program to be abolished if the deficiencies are not corrected swiftly.
The 8-year-old program -- called the Alternative Sentencing Unit -- is intended to be "superintensive," a criminal's last chance at community supervision before he is sent to prison. The program has been an unusual governmental hybrid, paid for through the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services but supervised by an oversight committee of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and probation officials.
The audit followed reports in The Sun that identified other deficiencies in the program.
Among the offenders in the program are child abusers, robbers and a handful of killers along with nonviolent drug addicts and thieves who are sentenced to unusually strict probation, often accompanied by mandatory drug treatment. Alternative Sentencing defendants are considered riskier than the standard probationer and are to be supervised more intensively -- seen one to three times a week, put on curfews, made to submit to random drug testing, told not to consume alcohol.
But in a review of the unit's internal files on 13 cases -- roughly 10 percent of the 117 offenders now on the program -- Henry R. Lesansky, inspector general of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, wrote that he found "numerous and significant deficiencies in the supervision/documentation of ASU cases."
Asking for Secretary Bishop L. Robinson's intervention, he wrote that the deficiencies posed "a public safety threat."
Furthermore, Lesansky noted, the program's "inability to produce an accurate active client list leads [his office] to believe that there is no reasonable assurance that all active ASU cases are being supervised."
Robinson has responded to the findings by ordering his staff to conduct a complete review of case files and write new directives for the program, said his spokesman, Leonard A. Sipes Jr. "He indicated that there was a need for speed," Sipes said. "At the moment, it is imperative that cases be reviewed and corrective action taken where warranted."
Lesansky's April 28 memo said the problems found included lapses in supervision, minimal and poorly documented drug testing of offenders, and "numerous offender violations" of the conditions of probation. In one case, the file of a man convicted of manslaughter contained no notes documenting contact with agents for a period of nearly two months.
State Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat who heads the House subcommittee that reviews Robinson's budget, said he was concerned about the scope of the deficiencies described in Lesansky's memo. He said he was confident that the program could be improved as long as Robinson took control of it.
"I'm assuming there have been numerous changes made since April and that the final report will reflect that," Franchot said. "Obviously the program is broken and needs to be fixed. If it can't be fixed, it should be abolished."
The Sun examined the cases of all 152 people in the program as of late January and found that 18 percent had been arrested for new crimes after being sentenced to the unit, some more than once. Judges who commit the offenders to the program have not always been told of new arrests, information that might lead them to put the offenders in prison.
After The Sun published the results of its investigation in February, Robinson ordered immediate improvements in the way judges are notified when offenders are charged with new crimes.
Baltimore's top judges have since asked Robinson to give them "administrative and fiscal" control of the program. Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. said yesterday that that request still stands, though he agrees with Robinson's plan to correct problems.
"I think it's a good program," McCurdy said. "I think it's been sufficiently successful to have proved its validity. I think it should be continued. If it's not continued, it's not the end of the world, but it removes one option for defendants that we have."
Pub Date: 6/21/97