New fingerprint safeguards after inmate's mistaken release

March 03, 2010|By Justin Fenton | justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Responding to last week's mistaken release of a violent inmate serving a life sentence, corrections officials said Tuesday that they will revamp inmate release procedures, including implementation of portable fingerprinting machines at a handful of prisons across the state.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the agency plans to begin using portable fingerprint scanning machines called "Fast ID" as an extra safeguard during the release process. State law enforcement agencies have been using the $1,500 portable machines in recent years, allowing officers to check fingerprints while in the field.

The first correctional facility to get the machine is the Maryland Reception, Diagnostics and Classification Center, which Binetti said Tuesday has begun handling inmate releases and transfers for the city instead of the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, where the mistaken release occurred.

"We'll be utilizing these to confirm fingerprints while DOC considers the best technology option going forward," he said.

A manhunt was touched off Thursday after 26-year-old Raymond T. Taylor, a man convicted of shooting his ex-girlfriend and her daughters execution-style in 2005, was released from the MCAC in downtown Baltimore.

Taylor obtained his cellmate's identification card and passed through three stages of the release process, which includes a review of release paperwork. Officials chalked the mistake up to the fact that the two men had similar features.

Inmates are held at numerous locations throughout the state, but only a small number of regional "hubs" are involved with inmate releases or transports for court or medical appearances. Taylor had been transported from a facility in Cumberland to MCAC en route to the Eastern Shore for a civil court hearing in Somerset County.

MRDCC, which is now handling inmate transfers and releases for the region, is a temporary holding facility that receives and processes inmates after they are sentenced. Binetti said the facilities are well equipped to take on the new task.

"Because MRDCC already uses fingerprints as part of the intake procedure, the Department of Corrections is going to roll out using fingerprint identification as part of the release process," Binetti said. "The staff at MRDCC already has background on this type of technology, so it makes sense."

At a legislative hearing last week, Secretary Gary D. Maynard said fingerprint machines at state prisons could cost up to $20,000 apiece. Binetti said the portable devices that will be rolled out "over the next week or so" may be a temporary fix.

He said officials will also continue to look at other options, such as biometric kiosks that are being used by the agency's Department of Parole and Probation, while stressing that the agency's "policies and procedures are sound, when followed correctly."

Corrections officials have not released additional information about the investigation into Taylor's release, including whether staff members had been disciplined, saying the probe is continuing.

Taylor was found the next day hiding in a closet at a home in West Virginia. Taylor's cellmate, William Johnson, who was released even after officials realized Taylor had been wrongly freed, was rearrested and charged with conspiracy to commit escape.



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