ROCKVILLE – If you happen to drive passed the new District Courthouse in beautiful downtown Rockville, don’t be surprised if you see people wandering around in jail uniforms. Chances are they haven’t escaped, they’re just looking for a ride back to jail.
According to several Rockville police officers, there have been several complaints about suspicious persons walking around in Rockville wearing prison garb.
“Montgomery County is one of the few counties in Maryland where prisoners are released directly from the courthouse if they are found not guilty or their cases are dropped,” said Arthur M. Wallenstein, the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. “The judges told us that the prisoners were free to go immediately and could not be driven back from court by the sheriff to the jail. The county then approved the policy to give the inmates who were released a bus pass or a cab pass to get back to the jail if they wanted to. Most didn’t want to and when they walked around Rockville, nobody knew if they were escaped prisoners or released prisoners because they’re all in the same jump suit.” “We tried to get the policy changed, but we were unsuccessful,” said Wallenstein.
A volunteer at the district court said acquitted criminal defendants are released out of the district court wearing the short-sleeved prison garb year-round, even in the winter. Recently the court volunteer said a woman was seen sitting outside the courthouse crying on the steps and the volunteer offered her a ride back to the Montgomery County Detention Center so she could retrieve belongings. She said the woman was afraid to walk around in public wearing prison attire even though she was found not guilty.
“In 2002, the courts advised that it was inappropriate for the Sheriff’s Office to return acquitted criminal defendants to a local detention facility for release processing,” said Lt. Col. Bruce P. Sherman, Assistant Sheriff. “The Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, in consultation with the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, instituted a ‘transportation voucher’ program to accommodate former prisoners who wished to return to the detention center.”
According to Sherman, the transportation vouchers are available from the Public Defenders offices on the first and third floor of the new District Court building at 191 East Jefferson Street, Rockville, MD 20850.
“It’s like a piece of paper,” said Corporal Carter of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation for Montgomery County. “The inmates come up here all the time from the courthouse with the voucher.”
Wallenstein said about 10 to 15 criminal defendants were released from the court per week.
“It remains inappropriate for prisoners to be released without their clothing, medication, or in some cases without being able to call family to pick them up,” said Wallenstein.