Legislative fix for home monitoring sought

Defendants can evade the requirement easily

October 27, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

State lawmakers said yesterday that they believe legislation may be necessary to plug a recently exposed hole in the criminal justice system - a statewide gap that has allowed suspects to defy judicial orders and avoid private home detention.

"The gap has to be closed and it has to be permanent," said Del. Joan Cadden after an emergency hearing before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on public safety. "We've got some good ideas."

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, two judges, the owner of a private home-monitoring company and other officials testified that there is no consistent statewide method for determining whether suspects ordered into the program enroll.

Lawmakers are seeking additional oversight. Changes could include developing a registry of those ordered into monitoring; appointing an agency to monitor who registers for the program; and establishing criteria that would ban violent suspects from enrolling.

What officials recently learned, and what was reported in a recent Sun article, is that registering for court-ordered home monitoring is often left to the defendant.

Many defendants were failing to report for monitoring, although no one knows how many because of the lack of oversight and record-keeping.

The problem came to light in Baltimore, where two men stand accused of a homicide that occurred while both were supposed to be on private home monitoring.

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 the 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 knew that the two had not registered until after they were accused of a fatal shooting on Sept. 28 in West Baltimore.

Private home monitoring has existed for at least 15 years as a way to reduce jail crowding and save public money. Suspects pay for their own monitoring.

The companies affix monitoring devices, typically anklets, to their clients to ensure that they are home during required hours. Statewide, about 250 people are currently in state-ordered private home monitoring, state officials said.

Private home monitoring differs from government-run home detention programs in several ways, the most obvious difference being oversight. Defendants whom the state oversees while awaiting trial 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. The recent controversy centers around pretrial defendants.

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