Central Booking troubles prompt council hearing

July 6 session an attempt to learn about efforts to fix jail's problems

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June 25, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Sparked by an inmate's beating death and other problems at the Central Booking and Intake Center, the Baltimore City Council has scheduled a July 6 public hearing to learn about efforts to remedy the jail's troubles.

The council does not have any authority over the state-run institution on East Madison Street, but members of its public safety subcommittee are requesting an update from the agencies involved with the booking facility, which handles about 100,000 suspects annually. Most of the arrests are made by the city Police Department.

"We can try to use [the hearing] as our bully pulpit, to try to get people to address the problems," said Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., a subcommittee member, adding: "The City Council is going to need assistance from our state partners to help us address the issues. We're just one part of the puzzle."

The hearing is slated for 5 p.m. at City Hall. It was prompted by reports this year of long delays and overcrowding at Central Booking, Harris said. The problem led public defenders to seek a court order requiring the release of detainees held for more than 24 hours without an initial hearing. That order remains in effect through November.

The pretrial division is one of several agencies that has been asked to provide reports at the City Council hearing. Others include the city state's attorney's office, Baltimore Police Department, public defender's office, parole and probation, two city judges and the pretrial division's parent agency, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Jacqueline Lampell, a public safety spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the agency was aware of the hearing and that a representative from the pretrial division will attend.

Other incidents and complaints have also recently dogged the facility near the Jones Falls Expressway. Last month, inmate Raymond K. Smoot was beaten to death by correctional officers during a melee in one of the housing units. Eight officers were fired in connection with the incident, and the city state's attorney's office is reviewing the case for possible criminal charges against some officers.

The FBI has also opened an investigation into Smoot's death.

The facility saw a leadership change this week, though corrections officials would not say whether the recent issues caused the transition. Susan M. Murphy, Central Booking's warden for the past 16 months, was offered another "leadership position", which she declined, and instead chose to retire Thursday, according to an internal e-mail obtained by The Sun.

Howard Ray, the pretrial division's deputy commissioner, was named acting warden.

Several unions that represent correctional officers argue that the facility is understaffed, and officers are often ill-equipped and under-trained - complaints that are disputed by public safety officials.

Public safety officials and correctional officers' unions, however, agree that the facility has been overcrowded.

"The problem is we've got too many doggone people in the facility, and the Baltimore Police Department is the biggest user" of Central Booking, said Archer Blackwell, a senior staff representative with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents correctional officers.

There has been plenty of internal finger-pointing, mainly between the state and the city Police Department, over problems with efficiency and management at the facility in recent years. Generally, the state has blamed the Police Department's arrest policies for bringing too many people to the facility. The Police Department has criticized state officials for inefficient management of the facility, according to internal documents and correspondence reviewed by The Sun.

Kristen Mahoney, technical services chief for the police, said there are regular leadership meetings between the police and state officials involved in Central Booking's operation.

"As we learn more about how the state operation functions, we're willing to offer more and more management solutions that they seem to be willing to accept," Mahoney said.

Sun staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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