Judge's letter criticizes state for lack of data on heat at jail

Cooksey had requested reports on female inmates

August 06, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore District Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey sent a blistering letter and judicial order to the state's pretrial services division yesterday, denouncing lawyers for failing to provide her with health information about female inmates assigned to the poorly ventilated Women's Detention Center.

She had demanded the information last week after touring the jail at 301 E. Eager St. and hearing reports that inmates and employees were becoming ill from the heat.

Temperatures, according to the public defender's office, have been as high as 117 degrees inside the building, which lacks air conditioning.

"Instead of receiving the medical reports with the statements I ordered, I received a conglomerate of assorted forms, progress notes and records," Cooksey wrote. "It is quite clear that no one reviewed this miscellaneous data before it was submitted."

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which runs the jail, said his office received a copy of the order and letter last night, and he wasn't sure how his department would respond.

"Our lawyers are huddled with the medical people," Sipes said.

Cooksey is concerned about the detainees because they told her they had medical conditions that could be aggravated by extreme heat.

The issue of the hot jail came to light last week when the public defender's office began filing motions at bail review hearings, asking judges to release some of its female clients, saying the poorly ventilated jail conditions are "inhumane" and violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Cooksey decided that instead of releasing without bail the 14 women who came before her last week, she would order them evaluated.

If a doctor determined they should not be in the extreme heat, Cooksey said, she would find a suitable place to hold the women until trial.

In her letter, Cooksey also questioned the wisdom of confining female detainees to a facility that has no air conditioning. The men's holding facility has air conditioning.

"I am also troubled by the fact that [Central Booking and Intake Facility], which is air conditioned initially had a floor dedicated to women detainees," Cooksey wrote. "When that facility became overcrowded, the women were moved to the Women's Detention Center. ... Can any of these male detainees be safely housed elsewhere ... thereby making room at CBIF for some of the women detainees who are determined to be most in need?"

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