The 10-year-old Maryland Central Booking and Intake Center in downtown Baltimore was supposed to be the $56 million answer to gridlock in the city’s criminal justice system, designed to speed an antiquated process of booking suspects, says the Baltimore Sun. Instead, the facility has only made the initial stages of arrest and detention more cumbersome, frustrating police stuck for hours processing prisoners instead of patrolling, and keeping people arrested on petty crimes jailed for hours or days longer than legally allowed. Judges, prosecutors, police, and defense lawyers say that Central Booking is broken, overwhelmed with arrestees, crowded with suspects awaiting trial and beset by inefficiencies that have complicated efforts to confront the city’s crime rate.
Evan Howard, 18, a college student, was arrested Friday after an officer accused him of refusing to obey orders to leave a street corner. He spent the next 56 hours detained at Central Booking, crammed with about 10 other people in a single-person cell; he was released Monday morning after prosecutors declined to charge him with a crime. Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the city State’s Attorney’s Office, said the mayor and police have failed to filter minor offenders from the system. “We can’t just arrest, arrest, arrest to address violent crime,” she said. “Baltimore is in the midst of a public safety crisis.” Kristen Mahoney of the city Police Department described the system as an assembly line with constant undetected bottlenecks, such as one machine being used to take mug shots. Such problems force police to wait outside the booking center for as long as five hours until their arrestees taken in for processing.