Judge orders inmates out of hot jail

Authorities fail to comply, saying they have no place to move the women

August 14, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore District Court judge ordered yesterday that two dozen inmates be moved from the Women's Detention Center because of excessive heat in the facility, but jail officials did not comply with the order, saying there is nowhere to put the women.

"I'm not defying the order. I can't comply with it," said LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of the state's Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

"I don't have the resources. There is no secure facility to move them to."

The order, issued by Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey, came on a day when temperatures inside the poorly ventilated women's jail hovered at about 110 degrees.

Cooksey said the temperatures could aggravate certain medical conditions, and that she expected jail officials would have a plan to move the inmates elsewhere.

"I hope and assume that the state had been giving this great thought and would have made some plan for these people to accommodate them elsewhere," Cooksey said.

"This is not something that has been suddenly brought to their attention."

Cooksey said she may hold jail officials in contempt of court if they do not comply with her ruling. Contempt could mean fining them, or detaining them in jail until they complete her order.

The issue arose last month when the public defender's office starting filing motions contending that the hot conditions violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

At several bail review hearings, public defenders asked that their defendants be released without bail because the jail was too hot and posed a threat to their health.

The two dozen women Cooksey ordered to be moved yesterday were the same people to appear before her for bail review hearings.

Elizabeth L. Julian, district public defender, said she was "shocked" jail officials didn't comply with the order.

"I did not believe they would defy a judge's order on such a humane request," Julian said. "We're talking about people who are innocent until proven guilty."

Several inmates and employees have reported becoming ill from the heat, which has been recorded as high as 117 degrees inside the building.

The neighboring Central Booking and Intake Facility, where men are held before trial, has air conditioning.

In addition to the order released yesterday, Cooksey sent a three-page scathing letter to jail officials.

It is her second such letter in the past two weeks that sharply criticizes the jail and its lawyers for not providing her with medical information she requested about inmates.

The letter says Cooksey has "exercised great patience" waiting for doctors' analyses, which would help her decide whether the women should remain in the facility.

She wrote that women on certain psychiatric medications are more susceptible to heat-related illness. Cooksey also made reference to a report that a jail doctor wrote, which implied that some inmates might receive less medicine because of the heat.

"The thought that ... medication for a mentally ill detainee would be decreased to allow for continued confinement in excessive heat and poor ventilation ... is extremely disturbing," she wrote.

Jail officials say they have taken steps to try to make the facility more comfortable.

Inmates are given ice three times a day and as much water as they can drink, according to jail officials.

But Cooksey said when she toured the jail two weeks ago that it was "exceedingly hot." She took the tour with Assistant Maryland Attorney General Glenn T. Marrow, who is representing the state agency that runs the jail.

"It became hotter as we went to higher-level floors," Cooksey said.

"Mr. Marrow would have been the defendant's best exhibit because he was literally dripping."

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