A U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore denied a request yesterday by Maryland officials to end federal oversight of the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center.
In his ruling, Judge J. Frederick Motz said that the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for cleaner, safer conditions at the jail, had clearly demonstrated troubled conditions at the facility.
"Once you take custody of someone, you owe them decent care and decent surroundings," Motz said. "There is consistent evidence of constitutional violations. You've got serious issues that haven't been addressed on the health side. "
The state, represented by the attorney general's office, is operating under a 1993 legal order that requires officials to clean up the detention center and revamp the way medical services are provided.
The state contended that it had done so, and filed a motion to end the legal order.
Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, detailed for the judge several instances of unsafe conditions, including prisoners washing clothes in toilets, rat infestation in the dining area and long delays in medical evaluations and treatment.
"It is documented that the food services in the Detention Center would have been closed by the city's Health Department if it was run by a private company," Alexander said. "Detainees have no choice but to trust the jail with the care of their lives."
The allegations are similar to those reported in a 2002 U.S. Department of Justice investigation that said the city Detention Center violated the constitutional rights of detainees and was responsible for a pattern of preventable deaths.
Several former detainees were at yesterday's hearing. Rick Brooks, 42, said he had a seizure when he was detained in the jail in February after authorities would not let him have his medicine. Then, he said, a guard dislocated Brooks' shoulder as he pulled him off the ground. He said he also lost part of his tongue.
"I don't want to see this happen to anyone else," Brooks said after the hearing.