The inmate population at state correctional facilities in Maryland is steadily decreasing, but sadly the reverse is occurring at Central Booking in Baltimore City. From 2017 to 2018 the number of inmates held at the notorious jail facility jumped more than 20 percent from an average of 655 inmates per day to 856 per day. The overall crime rate has gone down and arrest numbers have decreased over the last decade, leaving bail reform as one of the only possible culprits of the inmate spike. But before blaming bail reform, which effectively eliminated the unjust and presumably corrupt cash bail system, you must first look to the human beings who make the decisions to hold defendants without bail.
In February of 2017 Maryland’s highest court approved sweeping changes to the unjust cash bail system. These changes became effective roughly one year ago, and almost every jurisdiction is actually abiding by Court’s mandate, when determining release, to use the least restrictive means to assure the safety of the community and to assure the defendant’s presence in court. Baltimore City seems to be the one outlier and the one jurisdiction where pre-trial inmate numbers are skyrocketing, so you cannot simply blame the new bail system. Rather, the blame should be focused on the individuals who are tasked with implementing the new bail system and have since failed to do so in Baltimore City. The failure of Baltimore to adhere to the Court of Appeals’ mandate begins with the district court commissioners. These commissioners are only required to be college graduates, have little or no formal legal training and yet they are tasked with the immense responsibility of determining whether a defendant stays in custody or goes home to face the charges. Commissioners are also given the power to issue arrest warrants on civilian charging documents, and often do so without ever considering the charges could be untrue and motivated by spite and vengeance. Each day dozens of innocent people are arrested on charges supported by little or no corroborating evidence, and then are rubber stamped with a no bail by commissioners.
After a court commissioner denies bail the defendant will sit until the next business day when he or she will go before a district court judge for a bail review. In Baltimore City agents from pre-trial services will first speak to the judge. These agents do very little background research on the defendant and absolutely no research about the pending case. Often pre-trial will wait until an hour or so before the hearing to try to confirm the defendant’s living situation. The result is typically pre-trial giving the same recommendation as the commissioner, which sadly again is to hold without bail. The Assistant State’s Attorneys who conduct bail reviews at the Wabash or Patapsco Avenue district courts typically do not take a closer look into the facts surrounding the arrest either, which is a huge problem not just in Baltimore City, but the entire state. At the very least all civilian criminal complaints should be reviewed by a trained attorney. It is simply too easy to have someone falsely arrested in Maryland, and this absolutely needs to change.