U.S. judge scolds City Jail officials for inmate shifts

October 20, 1990|By Ginger Thompson

U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman harshly scolded Baltimore City Jail officials yesterday for not including in the prisoner-population count those inmates who were booked into the jail but sent to police district lockups to sleep.

Frank Derr, an assistant city solicitor, confirmed, in an early-morning meeting with the irate judge, that on six occasions the jail booked as many as 135 new prisoners, held them in reception rooms until about 4 a.m. and then transported them to district holding facilities.

Frank M. Dunbaugh, who represents the inmates, had accused jail officials of moving prisoners back to the lockups to keep the jail population from exceeding the limits mandated by a federal court order.

But at a public hearing at 4 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Derr insisted those accusations were untrue.

He said that on the six occasions, inmates were booked into the City Jail but were transported to the lockups after officials realized there were no beds for them. He said that officials also interpreted the federal court order as saying that only those prisoners who slept in the jail should be counted as part of its population.

"The reasoning given to this court [by city officials] is exceedingly worrisome and is not what this court had in mind," said Judge Kaufman, who has presided over the inmates' 14-year legal fight to improve conditions at the jail.

"And from this moment on, the word 'housed' means anyone who is in the City Jail during a 24-hour period," he ordered. "Anyone who is brought into the City Jail and is booked in the reception center should be counted in the population, even if they don't sleep there.

"There can be no misunderstanding this word from now on," he admonished.

Judge Kaufman also pointed out that jail officials were transporting the inmates from the jail to the lockups at unusually early hours -- 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. -- giving the appearance that they were trying to get them out of the jail before the daily population count.

However, Mr. Derr said medical screening of incoming inmates sometimes lasts until about 2 a.m. and during that time officials ,, are checking for available beds. Mean while, he said, the prisoners are kept in day rooms. When no beds were found, said Mr. Derr, the prisoners were taken back to district lockups.

"I'm not saying that you can't use police district holding facilities if they are appropriate in terms of sleeping space, food, hygiene -- including toilets and wash areas, lawyer visitation, recreation and family visitation," the judge said. "I'm not saying that's necessarily an unconditional violation of the decree.

"The violation is not counting people who are not physically inside the City Jail."

The judge was also angry that jail officials adopted the practice without consulting him.

"How is it that this measure suddenly took place after all the years the decree has been in effect with no consultation with the city solicitor and no advice from this court?" he said. He added later, ". . . if there's a need for another stopgap measure, I'm always available -- you have my home telephone number and have had it from the beginning -- and I do not want to see this kind of thing happen again."

Mr. Derr offered the judge a plan that he said would be put into effect if the jail population exceeded its mandated limit of 2,748. Up to 102 inmates would be placed in classrooms, the gymnasium and other non-dormitory sections, he said.

Ending the heated session, Judge Kaufman warned city officials that he would not stand for any delays to a 100-bed addition that was scheduled for completion by December.

"Those beds are going to be in operation by December, period, exclamation point," he ordered. "These 100 beds were promised in September 1989 to be available during the spring or winter, and we are already going to be at least nine months late. This court is not going to tolerate further delays."

Mr. Derr said that the dormitory section of the addition should be completed by Dec. 17, but that the recreation and visitation areas would not be finished until April.

The judge said he had never been advised that the project was being completed in two phases and demanded that the city prepare a report explaining the delays in full by early next week.

He said that the current recreation facilities are already overtaxed and that he was worried about the inmates "simply sitting around doing nothing."

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