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Inmates must stop slipping through the cracks

Jun 10, 2007 Inmates must stop slipping through the cracks

Image from Bureau of Prisons’ website.

On April 10, 2006, I wrote about a Prince George’s County, Maryland, misdemeanor drug inmate who had slipped through the cracks, having been left jailed pretrial for many months without having his case proceed beyond postponements.

Unfortunately, inmates seem to slip through such cracks all too often. Not too long ago, a story surfaced that a mentally handicapped person was discovered as due for release from the District of Columbia jail only a substantial time after his required release date.

Last week, the Washington Post wrote about two Prince William County, Virginia, misdemeanor inmates who were kept in jail beyond the date ordered for their release.

A common thread in the above three scenarios is inmates with a communications gap, whether a language gap (in the case of the Maryland and Virginia inmates) or an inability to be assertive, in the instance of the D.C. jail inmate. Another common thread is that all the courthouses and jails involved in the above-listed scenarios are dealing with a tremendous number of criminal defendants and inmates, making such mistakes more likely.

How to reduce such mistakes? One way is to reduce the crushing weight of court dockets and jail inmates by substantially decriminalizing drugs. Another way is to assure sufficient access to qualified interpreters. An additional way is for courthouses and jails sufficiently to hire and train personnel to assure that the jails know when a jail sentence has ended or a judge has ordered a sentence terminated, and to assure that such release dates and release orders are meticulously followed. Jon Katz.

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