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Stealth agency keeps Baltimore streets safer for 50 years

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Robert Weisengoff views his Pretrial Release Services Program in Baltimore as the stealth unit of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, performing essential functions in the criminal justice system to keep the Baltimore streets safer.

The platoon of investigators and case managers work around the clock , serving a critical role by handling those who have been arrested with a crime, yet not convicted. Investigators conduct extensive background reviews into drug use and the criminal histories of those charged, while case managers monitor the accused’s every move before trial.

The Program celebrated its 50th anniversary this month.

One of the Program’s chief duties is recommending to the court whether someone arrested should be held in jail because they are a safety risk.  The Program’s goal is to make sure their clients show up for court and don’t commit any crimes in the interim. Weisengoff’s motto is: “maximize pretrial release – minimize pretrial misconduct.”

The Pretrial Release Services Program has measured up to the task. Last year, only 6 percent of the 5,100 people supervised failed to show up for court appearances. And only 1 percent of the defendants under supervision committed crimes against another person.

The Program is in the Division of Parole and Probation but faces a different set of challenges since it cannot impose sanctions on those it monitors. Last year, the Program conducted over 18,000 investigations.

“Parole and probation is a privilege,” Weisengoff says. “Being released pretrial is a right. We deal with people who are not guilty. We can’t treat them like a guilty person.”AD1_2797

Weisengoff, who has been director since 1998, would like to see that 1 percent number reduced to zero. But he counts former department Secretary Bishop L. Robinson Sr. as his mentor and recalls many of the lessons the inspiring leader bestowed.

“He said no matter how hard you try, you really can’t predict criminal behavior,” Weisengoff said.

In addition to their duties watching over the charged, the unit of 88 employees also plays a critical role in the “war room” at Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center. The room in the basement of the facility is staffed by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and Baltimore Police Department to handle arrests. The Pretrial Release Services Program provides those partners, as well as the Court Commissioner, with criminal histories on those arrested.

The Pretrial Program is one of the oldest in the country and Weisengoff said it remains intensely focused on keeping the Baltimore streets safer.

“Entering its 50th year, the Pretrial Release Services Program is well positioned to continue to serve the citizens of Baltimore and Maryland by fulfilling its mission, vision and goals,” Weisengoff said.


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