Jail computer upgrades urged

Prisoner-release error prompts Dixon statement

July 10, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Mayor Sheila Dixon yesterday called on the city and state's top criminal justice officials to upgrade their decades-old computer systems so that prisoner-release and detention instructions are no longer managed with handwritten notes.

During a meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Dixon said she decided to call for changes after reading a Sun article describing the numerous paperwork errors that led to Calvin Boswell's improper release from the city jail the day after he was convicted of attempted murder.

"The systems are antiquated," Dixon said in an interview after the meeting. "It's going to require a large infusion of money to connect them so people can operate in real-time and everyone can get the same information at the same time."

Baltimore Circuit Judge John P. Miller, the head of the council, assigned Darren O'Brien of the city state's attorney's office to develop a plan and cost estimate for making the jail's automated booking system compatible with the court's judicial information system.

"With technology, most issues can be resolved, but the issue will be how much funding is available," said O'Brien, chief of the management information systems division for the state's attorney's office.

Ideally, O'Brien said, the state and city would create one interface - or screen - that would allow corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and court clerks to access both databases.

But O'Brien said for such technology to be helpful in preventing mistakes, court clerks would need to update the database in real time from courtrooms - as judges make decisions.

"That's an enormous task," he said.

In the Boswell case, a city jury convicted the 23-year-old North Baltimore man in April on several charges and cleared him of others. He was supposed to remain in the Baltimore City Detention Center until he was sentenced June 23, the date officials realized they had mistakenly freed him.

The paperwork ordering his release on file with the city-run court does not match the one on file with the state-run detention center, and there is a question as to whether the courtroom clerk, who fills out the release form, should have created the paperwork at all.

It is also unclear when or why the document - which resembles a receipt - was altered, or by whom. Internal investigators at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services are interviewing everyone who touched the release order, which went through many hands between the court and jail.

Boswell, of the 520 block of Walker Ave., remains at large.

"During the meeting, Dixon described the criminal justice system's computer networks as "in the dark ages," and said it was "alarming" how many "trees" the paper-based court system "kills."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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