ACLU, others bid to reopen suit over Baltimore jail conditions

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 02, 2015 11:47 AM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - The Baltimore jail remains filthy and dangerous to inmates despite a court settlement to improve conditions, the American Civil Liberties Union and others said on Tuesday in seeking to reopen a lawsuit against the state of Maryland.

Seven inmates have died at the vermin-ridden Baltimore City Detention Center in the past 2-1/2 years, possibly through lack of medical care, a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore said.

The filing is the latest black eye for the criminal justice system in Baltimore. Six officers were charged in the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody. His death led to protests and rioting.

Baltimore recorded 43 murders in May, the highest monthly tally since 1972.

"Too often ... confinement becomes life-threatening punishment, and routinely such confinement involves conditions that bring shame to this City and State," said the filing by the ACLU, prison reform advocate the Public Justice Center and Washington lawyer Elizabeth Alexander.

The motion contends that jail conditions violate U.S. constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment for the roughly 2,500 inmates being held there for trial.

The filing names Republican Governor Larry Hogan and other officials as defendants. It asks the federal court to reopen a 1993 lawsuit over jail conditions and to issue a temporary order mandating better medical care, working toilets and lights, and sanitary housing.

The 1993 lawsuit was settled in 2009 and a judge approved the settlement the following year when Democrat Martin O'Malley was governor. O'Malley left office in January and said on Saturday he was running for U.S. president in 2016.

The ACLU, the Public Justice Center and Alexander contend Maryland officials have failed to fulfill their promises.

The filing said inmates often lacked prescription drugs, provision of medicine was interrupted, medical record-keeping was slipshod and inmates with disabilities did not have their needs met.

The jail's ventilation system is filthy and intermittent, and some cells flood, it said. Inmates have turned to washing their clothes in mop buckets and sinks because clothing sent to an outside laundry gets lost, the motion said.

The Baltimore jail drew scrutiny in 2012 when investigators showed that a drug-dealing gang leader had impregnated four guards while being held there.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)