Federal law requires that anyone under age 22 with special needs should receive special education, even while in prison. But a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court today charges that Maryland has denied special education to as many as 400 state prisoners.
The Public Justice Center Inc., on behalf of four anonymous inmates, wants the court to force the state to identify and serve all who qualify for special education.
"Under federal law, every child up to the age of 22 has the right to a free, appropriate public education," the lawsuit states. "This right is not extinguished by confinement. . . . In fact, imprisonment in a Maryland Adult Correctional Facility only increases the urgency and importance of ensuring the delivery of that education."
Michael A. Millemann, one of six attorneys who filed the suit, said it is "a major class action suit [which could be] of national significance."
The suit was filed against individuals from the state Department of Education, which runs the prisons' education program, and Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Under federal law, according to the suit, anyone with a learning disability, physical impairment or emotional problems is entitled to special education classes. The suit estimates that at least 25 percent of the 1,700 prisoners under age 22 may qualify for these classes.
The plaintiffs are:
* Melvin C., 19, who is serving a three-year sentence at the Maryland Adult Correctional Facility in Jessup. He has severe learning difficulties and asthma.
The lawsuit charges that because of his physical problems and severe emotional problems, Melvin C. has been segregated from the other prisoners and has become suicidal.
* Arthur W., 18, who is serving a 40-year sentence at Patuxent Institution. He reads at a sixth-grade level and has severe emotional problems. Incarcerated in September 1988, Arthur W. received no school until January of this year, when he was placed in regular classes.
* Billy D., 18, who is serving a seven-year sentence in Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. In May 1990, according to the lawsuit, an evaluation recommended he receive special education classes.
Instead, Billy D. was enrolled in regular classes. In October 1990, he was confined in segregation and was not allowed to attend classes.
* Scott C., 17, who is serving a 30-year sentence at Roxbury. He has severe emotional problems, which, the lawsuit says, make him eligible for special education.
When Scott C. was placed in a regular class, he told the teacher it was "too hard." The lawsuit alleges Scott C. then was removed from class altogether.