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Plaintiffs in Baltimore jail lawsuit allege failure to comply with settlement

Inmates in a pretrial holding block last year during a tour of the Baltimore City Detention Center prior to its closing. Some people arrested in the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray were held for two days without an initial appearance; others received bail amounts they could not afford. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

Litigation over conditions in Baltimore’s jails was first filed in 1971, and plaintiffs are alleging in a new filing that the state, which oversees the facilities, is not complying with a 2016 settlement.  (File Photo/Maximilian Franz)

Plaintiffs in a decades-long lawsuit over conditions at Baltimore’s jails are asking a federal judge to extend the life of their 2016 settlement with the state due to “overwhelming evidence” of noncompliance with its terms.

The motion, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, refers to the “glacial pace of compliance” with the settlement, which mandated improvements to facilities as well as medical and mental health treatment, and “profound deficiencies” of current efforts.

Judge Ellen L. Hollander’s 2016 settlement order was the first in the case’s long history — it was filed in 1971 — to give the defendants a deadline and the plaintiffs an enforcement mechanism if the state fails to comply. Thursday’s motion seeks to exercise that option and extend the agreement, set to expire in June 2020, until June 2022.

The plaintiffs argue “something has to change fundamentally for Defendants to succeed in fulfilling the promise of the Settlement Agreement,” and they request a requirement that the state develop a plan of action with concrete steps for compliance and possibly return to mediation with the plaintiffs.

The settlement required a range of improvements to intake procedures, creation of plans of care, medication management, accommodations for prisoners with disabilities and record keeping. The motion alleges a lack of substantial compliance, though some areas have made significant improvements.

Only one in three patients receive their medication in a timely manner; patients with urgent mental health needs are only seen within 24 hours 57 percent of the time; and compliance with the continuity of medications only happens 76 percent of the time, according to the filing.

The motion quotes a memorandum about a detainee who died at the jail this summer written by the medical monitor overseeing compliance. He found significant missing information on intake forms, insufficient evaluations, failure to treat and overall “unacceptable documentation.” The plaintiffs called these issues “emblematic of systemic deficiencies throughout the health care process.”

The filing also mentions a detainee who displayed clear signs of being a suicide risk but was scheduled to return in two weeks and hung himself in his cell the next day, presumably fatally, but the file is unclear. The most recent report from the mental health monitor concluded the state is not in compliance with any provisions and paints a “dismal” picture.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Public Justice Center, ACLU National Prison Project and the Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander in Washington.

The case is Jerome Duvall et al. v. Larry Hogan et al., 1:94cv02541-ELH.

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