Lawyer seeks fines in jail case

March 22, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

Fed up with the overcrowding at the Baltimore City Detention Center that regularly exceeds court-ordered limits, an attorney for inmates has asked a federal judge to hold the city's top jailer in civil contempt of court until he moves large numbers of prisoners elsewhere.

In a motion filed yesterday, Frank M. Dunbaugh argued that LaMont W. Flanagan, who oversees the jail as commissioner of pretrial detention and services, should be fined $1,000 a day until he complies with a 1993 court decree outlining population limits in the 100-year-old former City Jail.

A hearing on the motion is expected next month.

Mr. Dunbaugh says inmates have had to sleep in the large "bull pens" that normally are used as a receiving area; in gymnasiums and in day rooms that have not been approved as housing areas by Judge J. Frederick Motz.

As a result, some inmates get no recreation -- because there's no place for it -- and "many 'sleep-over' prisoners, including pregnant women, end up sitting or lying down on the concrete floor for much of the day," Mr. Dunbaugh wrote.

Furthermore, Mr. Dunbaugh charges, inmates coming into the men's detention center have lacked access to telephones -- making the overcrowding worse because prisoners could not arrange for bail for several days later.

"As a result, some inmates who could have easily arranged for bail have been kept in the jail for several days in a 'sleep-over' status before they were able to contact anyone to help them make bail," he wrote.

The detention center is meant to house about 2,930, but the population has been averaging more like 3,100 in recent months.

Mr. Flanagan said he has been complying with the court order as best he can. "We are overcrowded but we do not control the intake and the arrests made by the police department and other law enforcement agencies," he said.

He said inmates regularly have access to phones, and he was at a loss to explain Mr. Dunbaugh's complaints to the contrary.

"I think this administration, under enormous pressure because of the high number of arrests, runs an efficient and effective system," Mr. Flanagan said. He pointed out that the jail recently was audited by the National Commission on Correctional Health, which notified him it would accredit the detention center.

The 1993 order was the latest attempt in the 19-year-old case to set rules and limits for controlling the burgeoning jail population. The decree established various levels of "contingency housing," such as local police lockups, where jail officials could take prisoner when crowding reached "emergency" levels.

The problem, according to Mr. Dunbaugh, is that the "emergency" has been constant -- inmates have been sleeping at police stations for months.

Under the court order, inmates may be housed in those areas at night and must return to the detention center in the morning.

Where the prisoners should go is unclear. Mr. Dunbaugh, who has represented inmates in the case for almost 19 years, has asked Judge Motz to require jail officials to revamp the population plan and come up with more housing for the steady influx of prisoners.

About 150 inmates at the jail should be serving their time in state prisons -- but officials can find no room for them there.

A new Central Booking Facility, set to open later this year, will add 811 jail beds, and officials hope it will ease crowding. But some of those spaces will be used as police lockups.

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