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Big changes found in justice system


More aggressive policing and changes in prosecutors' practices have produced "dramatic changes" in the criminal justice system, according to a report released this week by the University of Maryland.

People arrested in Baltimore are less likely to be charged with a crime than in the late 1990s, but once charged, they stay in jail longer before trial and are far more likely to be found guilty, the report found.

"In the last few years, there have been dramatic changes," said Faye S. Taxman, a co-author of the study and director of the University of Maryland's Bureau of Governmental Research.

The study, conducted in part to figure out why Baltimore's jails are crowded, compares a random sample of cases in 1998 and 2000.

It found the changes result from two new procedures: more aggressive policing and bringing prosecutors into the booking process early to figure out whether cases will have merit once in the court system.

"There was no capacity up front before to determine whether arrests had prosecutorial merit or probable cause," Taxman said. "By default, they charged everyone."

Two years ago, the state's attorney's office placed prosecutors in the Central Booking and Intake Facility, where suspects are taken. About the same time, Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris took over and implemented a tough approach to arresting people.

One of the more notable findings in the report is that guilty findings shot up 143 percent. In 2000, defendants were found guilty in 37 percent of cases in the sample. In 1998, 15.2 percent of defendants were found guilty.

Other findings:

After an arrest, no charges were filed 25 percent of the time in December 2001, a sharp increase from January 2000, when 6 percent of cases resulted in no charges.

Defendants who were released pending trial spent an average of 7.8 days in jail in 2000. In 1998, they spent an average of 4.5 days in jail waiting for case disposition or bail money.

Central Booking, which has a capacity of 811, was almost full as of yesterday, with 803 inmates.

Lamont W. Flanagan, state commissioner of pretrial detention and services, said jail stays are also longer because more defendants have violent criminal histories and are denied bail.

"Most people think overcrowding occurs because of more people," Flanagan said. "It can be because people stay longer, which they now do."

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