City grand jury to review detention report

Rights group criticized conditions for youths

November 23, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A city grand jury that regularly inspects jails will be asked to review a human rights group's report that sharply criticized conditions for youths confined in Baltimore City Detention Center.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said she will recommend that the report by New York-based Human Rights Watch be reviewed by a new city grand jury to be impaneled in January.

She disclosed those plans in a Nov. 16 letter to Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of Public Justice Center, a Baltimore advocacy group that provides legal services to the poor. Smith said yesterday that he received the letter late Friday.

Although Jessamy did not agree to the kind of independent grand jury investigation that advocates had sought, Smith said he was pleased by her response and hopeful that it would lead to improvements at the jail.

"I think they are going to take a closer look at things than they have in the past, and I think that's a sensible approach," Smith said. "The real issue is how to make the jail safe and humane for juveniles."

Speaking for Jessamy, Deputy State's Attorney Haven Kodeck said Jessamy wants the grand jury to closely examine conditions at the jail in the wake of the Human Rights Watch report. Jessamy also wants to ensure that recommendations of the grand jury are followed, he said.

LaMont W. Flanagan, who manages the jail as the state corrections department's commissioner of pretrial detention and services, has disputed the Human Rights Watch report, calling it exaggerated. Flanagan said the facility is antiquated, but not unsafe, inhumane or unsanitary, as alleged in the report.

Kodeck said Jessamy saw no need for an independent grand jury to investigate the findings in the Human Rights Watch report because that would duplicate work being done through the regular grand jury.

In her letter to Smith, Jessamy noted that a grand jury sits continuously in Baltimore and routinely inspects state correctional facilities within the city as part of its duties. A new panel is sworn in every four months, she wrote.

She said each of these grand juries has a committee that writes a report on city jail conditions. "After reviewing the reports for the past three years, it is obvious that the committee takes its review of the jail and correctional facilities very seriously," Jessamy wrote.

In recent years, city grand juries have noted problems at the detention center, but did not describe the kind of harsh conditions and rampant violence portrayed by Human Rights Watch.

In her letter, Jessamy said she will recommend that the grand jury in January set aside more time for closer scrutiny of the Baltimore Detention Center compared with other city corrections facilities it inspects. She also wrote that she wants to work with advocates at Public Justice Center, state corrections officials and judges to set up more formal procedures for handling recommendations the grand jury makes for improving jail conditions.

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