Fifteen inmates at the Maryland Penitentiary have gone to court to stop state prison officials from moving them out of solitary confinement and into the general population, where they claim they would be in danger.
In four lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore over the last three weeks, the inmates claim that they fear living in close contact with other prisoners in the general population.
"I told them I had enemies in the general population . . . and that I was in fear for my safety," inmate William A. Niewiadomski wrote in his lawsuit. "They still recommended I be placed in the general population."
Another inmate said he had been hospitalized twice because of attacks he suffered in the maximum security prison's general population.
The inmates did not spell out the possible danger they face in the general population.
Some of the inmates have been held in solitary "protective custody" for several years, according to Richard M. Kastendieck, an assistant attorney general who represents the state Division of Correction.
Kastendieck said prison officials will do a thorough check of the inmates claims. None of the inmates has been moved out of protective custody, officials said.
"Safety is one of the major reasons for providing protective custody," said Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the state Division of Correction. "But, the policy also calls for review of people held in protective custody periodically."
The four suits, which were handwritten by the inmates themselves, claim that the state has a constitutional duty to protect prisoners. Lawyers from the Legal Aid Bureau have now agreed to represent the four.
The suits were a response to a recent review by prison officials of the 40 inmates being held in protective custody at the Pen. A plan to close the prison's South Wing, notorious for its violence and decrepit living conditions, sparked the review of the protective custody inmates, Kastendieck said.
The protective custody area is in the prison's West Wing but officials are reviewing all of the prison's housing areas, Kastendieck said.