Release urged for city inmates

Defender files motion for women in hot jail

Wants Simms cited for contempt

Corrections officials note plan to cool facility

August 15, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Citing extreme heat inside the women's jail, the Baltimore public defender's office urged a judge yesterday to release all inmates and asked that the state's top public safety official be held in contempt of court for not moving the women to "a more humane" facility.

The court motion, filed in District Court in Baltimore, asks that the female inmates, if not released, be moved to another jail that "does not threaten their health" and that Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stuart O. Simms be cited for contempt.

District Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey, who ordered two dozen women moved from the facility this week, did not respond publicly to yesterday's motion. She said this week that jail officials could be found in contempt of court for not moving two dozen women subjected to overheated conditions.

Jail officials said they did not obey her order because they could not find a secure alternative facility for the women.

Instead, they devised a plan yesterday to cool the jail, which has no air conditioning and poor ventilation that contributed to temperatures of 110 degrees inside the building this week.

The plan, released by LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of the state's Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, includes installing an air conditioner in the women's gymnasium by Saturday and bringing inmates in there for hours at a time so they can cool down.

"The whole idea behind the gym air conditioner is to meet the spirit of [Cooksey's] concern of hot and humid conditions," Flanagan said. "The general idea is to provide substantial out-of-cell time in a comfortable environment."

Flanagan said it would cost $75,000 to rent the air conditioner for three months.

His plan also calls for the installation of window air conditioning units in a dorm that would house women with health concerns.

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

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

The motion filed by the public defender's office yesterday calls for Simms, the state's chief of the public safety department, to be held in contempt for not providing medical information requested by the court.

Contempt could mean a fine, or in the worst case, jail time until he completes a judge's order. Jail officials defended Simms, and said the request for him to be held in contempt "will not solve any problems."

"The secretary has gone to great lengths to meet the demands of the judiciary," Flanagan said.

Elizabeth L. Julian, the city's top public defender, said she doesn't want Simms jailed and that her main concern is that he take some action to remedy the hot jail.

Cooksey's order this week was attached to a blistering, three-page letter to jail officials that sharply criticized the detention center and its lawyers for not providing her with medical information she requested about inmates.

Cooksey said the temperatures could aggravate certain medical conditions.

The issue arose last month when the public defender's office filed 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 this week were the same people to appear before her for bail review hearings.

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