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ACLU: Squalid conditions at troubled Baltimore jail

BALTIMORE — Moldy showers and cells are infested with mice and cockroaches, toilets are broken for days and medical care is poor or nonexistent at a notoriously troubled Baltimore city jail, the ACLU and Public Justice Center said in court documents filed Tuesday.

The groups want a federal judge to reopen a lawsuit against the state of Maryland over what they say are conditions so substandard it brings “shame to this city.” Inmates suffering from serious illnesses such as HIV and diabetes are being denied life-sustaining prescription medication and the state has failed to cure well-documented systemic problems within the jail after entering into a 2007 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the court documents said.

“The conditions at the jail are a menace to the Constitution and to the public’s health,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

Stephen Moyer, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said he was committed to making changes. The department noted the state has spent more than $58 million to improve the safety and security of inmates and staff over the past 10 years.

“I was 4 years old when this original case was filed in 1964,” Moyer said in a statement. “I am 54 and have only had four months to learn about these perceived issues. I have high expectations of my staff to change the way we do business.”

The Baltimore City Detention Center, known as BCDC, grabbed national headlines in 2013 after a sweeping federal indictment exposed a sophisticated drug and cellphone smuggling ring inside the jail involving dozens of gang members and corrections officers, four of whom were impregnated by the gang member who orchestrated the scheme.

The motion argues that widespread failures of the jail’s medical and mental health care have possibly played a role in the death of seven inmates.

The jail “remains a dank and dangerous place, where detainees are confined in dirty cells infested with vermin. The showers are full of drain flies, black mold and filth,” the motion said.

Inmates with disabilities are assigned to cells that can’t meet their needs and they are often denied health care supplies, ranging from urinary bag and catheter changes to properly working wheelchairs, the documents said.

There were 43 incidents involving detainees making urgent medical visits related to excessive heat because their cells were not properly ventilated, reaching a heat index of 94 degrees in one instance, according to the motion. Over a three-month period, there were 26 instances in which broken toilets were not repaired for three days, far longer than the eight-hour mandate.

“We’re asking the court to reopen the case so we can litigate in court the defendants’ failure to comply with the settlement agreement and failure to provide what’s minimally required under the constitution, in terms of medical care and safety,” said Debra Gardner, legal director for the Public Justice Center.