Inmates' health OK despite heat in jail

Court-ordered evaluation finds 14 women inmates not seriously affected

Medical professionals report

August 03, 2002|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Medical professionals concluded that 14 inmates can remain in the Baltimore Women's Detention Center yesterday, after a district judge's order to evaluate their health and determine whether they were susceptible to the extreme heat inside the facility.

Yesterday morning, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services delivered the evaluations to Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey, a department spokesman said. Cooksey was unavailable for comment.

At a hearing Thursday, the judge ordered the evaluations of 14 women who had bail review hearings this week. The order came amid reports that inmates and employees are becoming ill because of the intense heat inside the detention center, which has neither air conditioning nor consistent ventilation.

The city public defender's office filed a motion this week seeking the release of some of its clients, arguing that they are being subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" by being held in the detention center.

A spokesman with the agency overseeing the state's detention facilities said the Women's Detention Center has made no changes in how it treats its inmates.

"We have a constitutional obligation that these individuals be attended to," spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr. said. "But we maintain that our operations are constitutional."

Sipes said inmates undergo medical screenings before they enter the facility and that they are provided as much water and ice as they want.

Jail officials "are evaluating the situation to see if there are additional steps that can be taken," he said. "There is a recognition that the facility is old and dysfunctional and needs to be replaced. But it would be at an enormous cost to taxpayers. A decision is under discussion."

This week, two employees at the women's jail, located at 301 E. Eager St., were granted transfers because of the heat, and several prisoners were treated for heat exhaustion and respiratory problems.

A 27-year-old prisoner hospitalized Thursday after being found unconscious and without a pulse was suffering from a cocaine-related seizure that was not brought on by the heat, Sipes said. The woman, who had been at the facility for two hours before her collapse, remains on a respirator at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he said.

Sipes said most of the state's detention facilities lack air conditioning, and the intense heat this year has been a widespread problem. This week, two male inmates at the Patuxent Institution were taken by ambulance to Howard County Hospital with heat-related illnesses. They are in serious condition at the hospital, Sipes said.

The region's heat wave has contributed to 31 deaths in Maryland, none of them at the women's jail.

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