E-Alerts & Press Releases

Faster Freedom for those Released Without Charge

February 8, 2006: Responding to a threatened lawsuit by the Public Justice Center’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, the Department of Pretrial Detention and Services has agreed to promptly release individuals detained at Baltimore’s Central Booking and Intake Facility after charges against them are dropped.
Opened in 1995, Central Booking was intended to be a state-of-the-art facility capable of serving as a centralized location where all arrestees in Baltimore City could be booked and processed efficiently.  However, the State’s Attorney, after reviewing the statements and evidence by police, often decides not to file formal charges against the person.  This is not a rare occurrence: approximately 40% of the 100,000 people arrested by the police in a year and brought to Central Booking are ordered to be “released without charges” (RWOC). At that point, the initial justification for the detention evaporates, and there is no legal justification for prolonged continued incarceration.  Simply put, the person should be free to leave promptly after that determination.
Unfortunately, prior to the threatened litigation, being “Released Without Charge” did not guarantee prompt physical release.  Rather, individuals who were legally RWOC were needlessly trapped for many additional hours, forced to endure the inhumane conditions associated with a broken system.  People “Released Without Charge” often remained incarcerated for five, ten, twelve hours or even longer.  Although these individuals were not charged with the crime for which they were arrested, they sat in a prison cell for hours on end, unable to enjoy the basic liberties to which they are entitled.
The Public Justice Center investigated this situation and found several reasons for the delayed release of people who were RWOC, including long delays in returning personal property to the person and more delays while the police ran additional warrant checks.  After learning of this problem, the Prisoners’ Rights team prepared a class action case, along with a demand for an injunction to compel Central Booking to immediately release those persons the prosecutor determined should be “Released Without Charge.”
Under threat of litigation, the Department of Pretrial Detention and Services agreed to amend their practices.  New written policies were put into place that sped the return of the person’s property, and it appears that the practice of conducting additional (and unnecessary) warrant checks has been stopped. For the first time, Central Booking has developed a form for tracking the time between when the charges were dropped and the person was actually released.  Initial results show that the Department is working to eliminate this once-routine injustice.

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