Maryland Officials Seek to End Federal Consent Decree Despite Persistent Constitutional Violations at Baltimore Jail

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
August 25, 2004 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE — At a hearing today before U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Motz, the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Justice Center countered Maryland officials’ attempt to end a federal consent decree governing conditions at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where constitutional violations persist.

“Dangerous inadequacies in the provision of medical services and maintenance at the jail pose grave risks to the health and safety of detainees confined there,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Maryland officials’ move to terminate federal oversight of the detention center is exceedingly premature.”

The ACLU and Public Justice Center highlighted at today’s hearing numerous complaints from jail detainees who have encountered long delays in receiving medical evaluations and treatment. For example, many detainees entering the jail already taking medications for HIV wait months to receive the drugs they need and risk developing HIV that is resistant to drug therapy. Detainees with diabetes, hypertension and mental illness suffer similar neglect because proper medical evaluations when entering the jail are not conducted and necessary treatments are delayed. The ACLU and PJC found that detainees with mental health problems deteriorate because of the excessive delay in seeing a psychiatrist and lack of access to their medications.

Arguments on behalf of detainees also pointed to problems with sanitation, plumbing and rodent and insect infestations at the jail that pose a serious threat to public health. Sewage has repeatedly flooded dormitories and inadequate laundry facilities cause detainees to resort to washing their clothes in toilets, increasing the risk of dangerous drug-resistant staph infections. Furthermore, public health authorities have noted that if food services at the jail were a private operation, they would seek to close it.

“The dilapidated cellblocks at BCDC in combination with the constitutionally inadequate medical care provided to detainees create hazardous living conditions,” said Sally Dworak-Fisher, an attorney with the Public Justice Center. “The only way to protect the safety of the men and women housed at BCDC is to continue the independent oversight the court system now has in place.”

In December 2003, the ACLU and PJC filed a motion to enforce the medical and physical plant provisions in a decade-old consent decree that is now being challenged by Maryland officials. The terms of the order in Duvall v. Glendening require BCDC to maintain suitable health and safety standards but, according to detainees, jail officials have not fulfilled their obligations.

In August 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a damning report on the BCDC after an investigation found unconstitutional conditions there. The report concluded that “persons confined suffer harm or the risk of harm from deficiencies in the facility’s fire safety protections, medical care, mental health care, sanitation, opportunity to exercise and protections of juveniles.”

To read the Justice Department report, go to

To read the most recent filing in Duvall v. Glendening in response to Maryland’s motion to terminate the BCDC consent decree, go to /node/35177

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