Monitor system probe urged

Recent homicide revealed flaws in city's system

`It's not unique to Baltimore'

Suspects released on bail didn't enter program

October 16, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

State lawmakers called for an investigation yesterday as law enforcement officials said they fear that poor oversight of suspects ordered into private home monitoring is a problem that extends to jurisdictions across Maryland.

"It's not unique to Baltimore," said Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.

Two leading senators called yesterday for fixing the system immediately and raised the possibility of legislative hearings.

"We really need to start an investigation," said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee's public safety subcommittee. "We need to start that now."

Troubles with private home monitoring for suspects released on bail have surfaced in Baltimore because of a recent homicide.

On Sept. 10, a judge reduced the bail for two men charged with violent crimes. He ordered that Kevin Dorsey and Dennis Bowers enter home monitoring upon posting bail, but neither did so.

Bowers was released from Central Booking and Intake Center on Sept. 14. Dorsey was released Sept. 18. No one in the criminal justice system knew that Dorsey and Bowers hadn't registered until after they were accused of fatally shooting Kareem Hanks on Sept. 28 in West Baltimore.

The killing led to the revelation that although suspects were being released from jail with a requirement to enter private home monitoring, no one was checking on whether they registered.

The fallout is spreading beyond Baltimore.

Because no one is tracking how many people are supposed to be entering private home monitoring while on bail, the scope of the problem hasn't been determined.

Several prosecutors said yesterday that they are examining how judges are using private home monitoring in their jurisdictions.

Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey said his county has the same system as the city but that most judges ensure that contracts are in place with specific monitoring companies before approving defense attorneys' requests.

Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said he is not aware of suspects being released on bail with a condition that they enter private home monitoring, which is distinct from the publicly run systems.

Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said most judges there reduced reliance on private home monitoring after a suspect committed rapes in 1996 while being monitored. Some judges still use the program. Gansler of Montgomery County said the Baltimore homicide has heightened his concern. He called for judges to be more diligent in crafting orders that ensure that suspects enter home monitoring.

"It is essentially an honor system as to whether they will show up or not," he said.

The owners of private home detention companies said that across the state, there is no consistent method for notifying them that a suspect has been ordered to report for monitoring. So there's no way for them to know who is not reporting, they said.

Private home monitoring has existed for at least 15 years. The advantages of the program include reducing jail crowding and saving public money. Suspects pay for their monitoring. The price, which varies, can be $300 or more a month.

Privately monitored suspects are enrolled because it is a condition of their release on bail.

At least four private home monitoring companies operate in Maryland, according to company owners. They are licensed and audited by the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. They affix monitoring devices, typically anklets, to their clients to ensure that they are home during required hours.

Private home monitoring differs from the state detention program in several ways, the most obvious difference being oversight.

The state oversees some suspects awaiting trial. State home detainees awaiting trial do not post bail and are considered to be in custody. Privately monitored suspects are enrolled because it is a condition of their release on bail.

Private companies can also handle clients serving probation sentences, but the latest controversy centers on their monitoring of suspects who have been released on bail.

Lawmakers said they weren't aware of gaps in the system until now.

"We've got a problem that needs to be fixed," said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat who is chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It would be useful to know how pervasive it is. But it's very clear there's a problem."

Frosh said fixing the problem might require not a change in the law, but rather procedural measures by judges and prosecutors.

"I don't think this is a problem with the law," he said. "We give them the tools, and they need to be used properly."

While a fix is explored, prosecutors in Baltimore have been ordered to oppose all requests for private home monitoring, and one Circuit Court judge has cautioned his city colleagues about the system.

At yesterday morning's Circuit Court bail review in Baltimore, two suspects requested to be released on private home monitoring, city prosecutors said.

Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger denied both requests.

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