Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Baltimore's Jailhouse of Tomorrow It Uses Video Booking, New Fingerprinting, and Bar-Code Tracking

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Baltimore's Jailhouse of Tomorrow It Uses Video Booking, New Fingerprinting, and Bar-Code Tracking

Article excerpt

THE same technology that brought you faster check-out lines at the corner grocery store now promises to be the cutting edge in jailhouse surveillance.

The bar code, a retail device employed since the early 1980s, inaugurates its newest use this week as a key part of the just-opened Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.

Personalized bar-coded wristbands affixed to each alleged offender send signals to a central computer every time the suspect changes locations within the lockup.

The "accountability scan" is not the only innovation at Baltimore's busy central booking, which processes between 200 and 250 men and women each day. It is part of a broader security and information capability that has already been used elsewhere in bits and pieces, but never coordinated in one place.

The technologies include computerized fingerprinting and on-site video bail reviews. They help speed up the booking process, beef up monitoring, and reduce risk by eliminating transporting detainees to hearings across town.

All this makes the Baltimore facility the most sophisticated operation for charging and tracking alleged criminals, and the prototype for the 21st century, says Lamont Flanagan, commissioner of Maryland's division of pretrial detention services. "It's speed, efficiency, and quality - it finally enables us to keep abreast of our own criminal-justice system," he says.

"We have to be constantly on guard," says Leonard Sipes Jr., director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "We are developing technologies that provide instant information on criminal histories" replete with rap sheets, fingerprints, and video photo identifications. Streamlining procedures and rapid supply of information should ease the burden on Baltimore, which makes 75,000 arrests each year - about 10 percent of the city's population.

Commissioner Flanagan says he has not heard from the American Civil Liberties Union about a possible breach of detainees' rights. On the contrary, he says, "we are safeguarding their liberties" because the quick access to a broad array of information allows authorities to more easily identify suspects who may be wrongfully held. …

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