EVEN AS Baltimore tries to streamline its ponderous criminal justice system, the General Assembly's analysts are urging legislators to withhold $1 million from city judges and correctional services.
The reason: Their plan to expedite justice is deemed too sketchy.
The legislative policy analysts' particular focus is a courtroom at the Central Booking and Intake Center, which has stood underutilized for years because of bureaucratic haggling. It is finally due to start full operation Sept. 18.
But analysts say many "interagency logistical problems" remain unresolved.
This indeed is the case. Police don't have the staff or equipment to process drug analyses within 24 hours -- or even within 48 hours. As a result, cases cannot be disposed of early.
Bail review investigations by the public defender's office also take too long. And staffing complications remain because bail reviews or arraignments are conducted at two distant locations as well. Consolidation is needed to end that wasteful practice.
Some of these issues may be resolved in the next few weeks. But even after more than a year of controversy and bureaucratic games, Baltimore's criminal justice reform effort still requires strong, assertive legislative oversight to make sure that slow pace will not strangle streamlining efforts and rob them of expected benefits.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has performed admirably, considering that it is a voluntary group and lacks any legal standing.
But it depends on the various bureaucracies' cooperation. Sometimes that help is forthcoming; sometimes it is not.
This inconsistency breeds vagueness, which was reflected in the analysts' recommendation to the General Assembly that goals and timetables be set.
For four years, some judges successfully prevented the use of the Central Booking courtroom. They were more interested in their prerogatives than in swift justice.
Their open opposition, by and large, has ceased. But they are now engaged in a rear-guard action, bickering over the new court's docket.
This sabotage is inexcusable. It is up to the legislature to see that is stops.