Balto. Co. settles suit over detention center overcrowding

November 29, 1990|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore County officials have settled a federal lawsuit by agreeing to transfer pretrial detainees from police lockups to the county detention center within 48 hours after arrests.

Judge Joseph C. Howard signed a consent decree late yesterday that will put the new practice into effect between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1, 1991.

The decree settled a class-action civil suit filed by the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of prisoners who sometimes were held in county police lockups for weeks due to overcrowding at the detention center.

The suit, filed early this year, alleged that the county routinely violated pretrial prisoners' due process constitutional rights by housing them in dirty, overcrowded lockups, often without proper sanitary facilities or medical attention, for up to six weeks at a time.

Howard said in the decree that the county has purchased five trailers, called "detention pods," in which it will house up to 76 overflow inmates from the detention center to comply with the consent decree.

County officials also must expand their home monitoring program to reduce the number of detention center inmates by 25, the decree said.

Daniel W. Whitney, one of the lawyers who represented the ACLU in the suit, said, "I think the county deserves a lot of credit for acting swiftly in making changes in the way they will be detaining arrestees. It's a major improvement, a dramatic change.

"We've had a tremendous amount of cooperation from the sheriff and the undersheriff, and the county's Office of Law."

The consent decree "is an example of how things should work. It's refreshing to be in a situation where we don't have to go to trial and battle, hammer and tongs, to get the desired result," said Whitney, who has fought the county in several prisoner-related federal cases.

"Chronic overcrowding has been a problem in the county for 10 years. This really is a dramatic change," Whitney said.

Howard will retain jurisdiction in the suit until all terms of the agreement are put into place and until the county has achieved "sustained compliance" for six consecutive months.

He defined "sustained compliance" as the county's "ability to demonstrate that arrestees [do] not remain in a precinct lockup" beyond the 48-hour bail review period dictated by state law.

The decree said all county arrestees are to be taken before court commissioners within 24 hours of their arrests for bail.

Those who are denied bail or who are unable to post bail must be taken to county district courts at the next available session for bail review.

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