Monitor system hearing planned

Defendants fail to register for detention program

`We have to get on top of it'

State lawmakers to focus on lack of oversight

October 19, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

State lawmakers have scheduled an emergency hearing for next week to address concerns about oversight of private home monitoring for criminal defendants, a form of home detention that has recently come under scrutiny.

What was unknown to many within the criminal justice system, and reported in a Sun article last week, is that in many cases, registering for court-ordered home monitoring is left up to the defendant. Under that arrangement, which is essentially an honor system, defendants sometimes fail to report for monitoring.

"Nobody knows how many people are even out there who are supposed to be on home monitoring," said Del. Joan Cadden, chairman of the public safety subcommittee for the House Appropriations Committee. "That's ridiculous. We have to get on top of it as fast as we can."

The Anne Arundel County Democrat's subcommittee will meet Oct. 26 in Annapolis, along with some members of the House Judiciary Committee. State officials have asked prosecutors, public defenders, judges, corrections officials and private home monitoring company managers to attend.

Some senators have raised the possibility of holding separate hearings.

Most of those invited to attend next week are from Baltimore, where the problems recently came to light.

Two men stand accused of a homicide that occurred while both were supposed to be on private home monitoring, a program distinct from the government-run home detention programs.

Violent crimes

On Sept. 10, a judge reduced the bail for Kevin Dorsey and Dennis Bowers, two men who were charged with violent crimes. As an additional precaution, he ordered that they enter home monitoring upon posting bail.

Bowers, who had been facing handgun charges when he made bail, was released from Central Booking and Intake Center on Sept. 14. Dorsey, who had been charged with attempted murder, was released Sept. 18. Neither registered for home monitoring, and no one in the criminal justice system -- including prosecutors and the judge who set the conditions of their release -- knew that the two hadn't registered until after they were accused of fatally shooting Kareem Hanks on Sept. 28 in West Baltimore.

The lack of oversight appears to be a statewide problem, according to law enforcement officials and the owners of private monitoring companies. Because of the problem's scope, the Maryland Association of Counties has been asked to find officials from outside Baltimore to attend next week's hearing.

City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is among those who plan to testify.

"The public deserves to know where the breakdowns are in the policy or the procedures," said Jessamy spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns. "Clearly, something is amiss. In the interest of public safety, we need to get to the bottom of it."

Cadden and other lawmakers have said they need to determine whether legislation is required to put an agency in charge of private home monitoring oversight.

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 own monitoring. The price, which varies, can be $300 or more a month.

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. The companies affix monitoring devices, typically anklets, to their clients to ensure that they are home during required hours.

Private monitoring

Private home monitoring differs from the state home detention program in several ways, the most obvious difference being oversight. While the state oversees some defendants awaiting trial, those defendants do not post bail and are considered to be in custody. Privately monitored defendants post bail and then are supposed to report to the monitoring company as a condition of their release.

In additional to monitoring defendants awaiting trial, private companies sometimes oversee those who have been convicted and are serving probation sentences. Though the recent controversy centers around pre-trial defendants, Cadden has said she wants to ask questions about all aspects of private home monitoring.

"Anything that's private, we're looking at," she said. "I don't want any holes, any gap, anywhere."

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