Experts' reports give prison mixed reviews Supermax said to violate inmates' rights

abuses found to be addressed

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

Although the U.S. Department of Justice says Maryland's Supermax prison violates inmates' civil rights, federal consultants who examined the facility also found prison officials were trying to prevent abuse of inmates, according to reports released yesterday.

The consultants -- former District of Columbia corrections official E. Eugene Miller, Santa Fe physician Steven S. Spencer and Denver psychiatrist Jeffrey L. Metzner -- wrote the reports to describe several visits made to the East Baltimore prison in 1995 at the Justice Department's request. Spencer wrote that the contentious attitude of state officials made the visits among the most adversarial of his career as a prison consultant.

Assistant State Attorney General Stuart M. Nathan, who represents the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, released the experts' reports after The Sun requested them under the state's Public Information Act.

On the basis of the consultants' reports, Deval L. Patrick, President Clinton's assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote to Gov. Parris N. Glendening May 1 that Supermax was operating unconstitutionally. He said that if the state did not respond within 49 days, it could be sued for the alleged violations, which included "grossly deficient" mental health services and inadequate access to exercise and medical care.

The consultants made these points in their reports. However, they said some aspects of the prison were run well. Miller noted that inmate-on-inmate assaults had declined from 10 in 1992 to four in 1993 and to zero in 1994. He also wrote that state officials "are taking a number of steps to prevent staff abuse of inmates." He noted that correctional officers removing inmates from their cells appeared on videotape "to have used the least amount of force necessary to control the situation."

"My reaction is that there are a lot of favorable comments," Nathan said yesterday. "Our position is that we've always been operating consistently with constitutional requirements."

Prison officials have until next week to respond to the Justice Department's allegations.

The super-maximum security prison -- formally known as the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center -- opened in 1989 to hold up to 288 of the state's most difficult inmates in single, 65-square-foot cells around the clock. As envisioned, the prison was to have held those inmates only until showing they could behave well.

But Miller wrote there is no consistent, objective process to determine when a prisoner is ready to leave. And he noted that inmate Bruce Shreeves was sent to Supermax though he had committed no infractions during the 1 1/2 years before he got there.

Spencer wrote he was often accompanied by up to 15 state officials on his visits, making the atmosphere less than "open."

"In over 10 years of experience in evaluating medical care in more than 40 prisons and jails, this visit was unique in terms of the level of tension surrounding my work," Spencer wrote. "Information I obtained through interviews was obviously conditioned by the presence of officials and lawyers, and is therefore less likely to be reliable than if I had been able to interview people privately, as is my custom."

But Spencer wrote that others at the prison were helpful to him. And he said that in 37 individual medical charts reviewed, "in general" the quality of care was good.

He noted eight problem cases, however, including some prisoners for whom important tests appeared to have been delayed.

Metzner, who evaluated mental health services at the facility, wrote that 20 inmates with serious mental problems had been transferred out of Supermax just before his visit, and that out of 10 inmates he interviewed, he identified two with psychotic symptoms.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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