Judge orders improvement plan from Central Booking in 30 days


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July 01, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

With excessive delays at Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center triggering the release of more than 80 criminal suspects in recent months, a city Circuit Court judge demanded yesterday that state corrections officials provide a written report in 30 days of their plans to improve efficiency at the state-run facility.

Judge John M. Glynn also expressed concern that only political action - not court intervention - could ultimately resolve the problems at Central Booking, which processes about 100,000 people a year. Most of the detainees at the state-run facility are brought there by Baltimore police.

"Let's get to the bottom line," Glynn said. "If I find it is a hopeless disaster ... what can I do about that?"

Throughout a nearly two-hour hearing, Glynn peppered corrections officials and state and city lawyers with questions about Central Booking. The facility on Madison Street, adjacent to the Baltimore City Detention Center, serves as the gateway to the city's criminal justice system.

The hearing was the latest step in a lawsuit the public defender's office filed in April against state corrections officials, seeking the release of suspects held longer than 24 hours at Central Booking without an initial court hearing. A restraining order that requires the release of such suspects remains in effect through November.

Glynn also heard arguments from Ralph S. Tyler, Baltimore's city solicitor, who excoriated state corrections officials for mismanaging the facility and jeopardizing public safety by allowing the release of criminal suspects. The city filed a motion Wednesday to join the public defender's office in its lawsuit against the state.

"This is an institution in need of dramatic reform, and the only vehicle for getting that reform is this court, with this case," Tyler said.

Lawyers from the Maryland attorney general's office, who represent corrections officials, at one point responded that the city is "contributing" to the problems at Central Booking, which must accept every suspect brought to them by city police. Instead of trying to join the public defender's lawsuit, they suggested that the city should be named as one of the defendants.

For instance, state corrections officials complained of hours-long delays by police in the filing of charging documents against suspects they arrest. They also complained of a handful of days in June when the facility had a "backlog" due to what they alleged was a flood of arrests by police.

Howard Ray, deputy commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services and acting warden at Central Booking, attempted to assure Glynn that improvements are being made. He said the state hired a consultant to study internal processes at the booking center.

Glynn asked the parties to report back to him on what happens to suspects who are arrested for crimes but are released.

"We don't want police arresting people and then rearresting them," Glynn said.

Sun staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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