Bal­ti­more jail is tar­geted

An ACLU mo­tion cites dire con­di­tions, in­clud­ing crowded, ver­min-in­fested cells.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - James.queally @la­times.com By James Queally

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union filed a mo­tion Tues­day to re­open a law­suit call­ing for ma­jor re­forms to Bal­ti­more’s city jail, cit­ing re­ports from in­mates who said they strug­gled to re­ceive HIV med­i­ca­tion and were stuffed into crowded, ver­min-rid­den cells.

The con­di­tions at the city jail, which have been doc­u­mented in a se­ries of law­suits and court or­ders, gained na­tional at­ten­tion in April when hun­dreds of pro­test­ers were de­tained there af­ter demon­stra­tions and ri­ots over the death of 25-yearold Fred­die Gray, who was se­verely in­jured in po­lice cus­tody.

“Ev­ery minute spent in the jail is pun­ish­ment,” the ACLU said in the mo­tion. “Too of­ten such con­fine­ment be­comes life-threat­en­ing pun­ish­ment.”

The ACLU ar­gued that the jail, which holds about 3,000 pris­on­ers, had re­peat­edly failed to com­ply with the terms of a set­tle­ment with the Jus­tice Depart­ment that was reached in 1993 and ex­panded over the years, with the last agree­ment in 2012.

In­mates suf­fer­ing from long-term health prob­lems, in­clud­ing di­a­betes and HIV, said they would go days with­out re­ceiv­ing nec­es­sary med­i­ca­tion, while oth­ers com­plained of spend­ing days locked in cells with­out work­ing toi­lets or sinks.

Many of the fa­cil­ity’s shower drains are full of “drain f lies, black mold and filth,” ac­cord­ing to the mo­tion.

“De­spite a half-cen­tury of lit­i­ga­tion, and re­peated prom­ises by city and state of­fi­cials, [Bal­ti­more City Detention Cen­ter] re­mains a dank and danger­ous place, where de­tainees are con­fined in dirty cells in­fested with ver­min,” the mo­tion said.

Stephen T. Moyer, head of Mary­land’s Depart­ment of Public Safety and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, said his ad­min­is­tra­tion had been in place for just four months and was at­tempt­ing to re­view con­di­tions at the city jail when the ACLU filed its mo­tion.

“I re­spect­fully asked for time to ad­dress th­ese con­cerns and was told no by at­tor­neys for the plain­tiffs,” he said in a state­ment. “We are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing the best ser­vice to our clients and will re­main com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that ac­cepted stan­dards are met.”

The ACLU cited med­i­cal records and in­ter­views with dozens of in­mates who were de­nied ac­cess to proper med­i­cal treat­ment. One pa­tient did not re­ceive needed HIV med­i­ca­tion un­til just days be­fore his death, the mo­tion said.

In­mates have been kept in swel­ter­ing con­di­tions in the jail, which can be­come ex­tremely hu­mid in the sum­mer. At one point last sum­mer, nearly a quar­ter of the fa­cil­ity’s fans were in need of re­pair, the mo­tion said.

In April, af­ter Bal­ti­more po­lice ar­rested hun­dreds of peo­ple dur­ing city­wide ri­ot­ing, the city public de­fender’s of­fice ar­gued that de­tainees were be­ing held in cramped con­di­tions for days.

The jail strug­gles to pro­vide ad­e­quate laun­dry ser­vices, said Deputy Public De­fender Natalie Fine­gar, who said many de­tainees washed their per­sonal items in toi­lets.

Fine­gar, who pre­vi­ously worked in a public de­fender’s satel­lite of­fice within the jail, said she saw cases of scar­let fever and MRSA, a deadly drug-re­sis­tant bac­te­rial in­fec­tion, spread­ing through the fa­cil­ity on more than one oc­ca­sion.

“At var­i­ous points I’ve had to con­tact my staff and let them know they’ve been ex­posed to th­ese things,” Fine­gar said.

“It’s kind of run­ning ram­pant at a fa­cil­ity where there aren’t a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties to stay clean.”

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