ACLU Returns to Court on Behalf of Women at Medical Risk in Sweltering Baltimore City Jail

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
August 6, 2003 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE — Attorneys representing hundreds of women confined in the Women’s Detention Center (WDC) here will appear before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz today to force state officials to abide by an order issued last summer to protect women at medical risk because of excessive heat in the jail’s dormitories, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

“Placing women diagnosed as at-risk for heat-related illness in jail units with 97 degree temperatures is intolerable and illegal,” said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Today’s hearing will force Maryland officials to answer for their deliberate indifference toward the plight of these women.”

Court documents submitted by the ACLU allege that the state is violating a consent order issued in August 2002 after a heat wave exposed ventilation problems in the antiquated jail where temperatures rose above 117 degrees. Women held in the WDC this summer are again experiencing extreme temperatures while awaiting adjudication of their cases. Housing units for medically at-risk women are often hotter than those for women confined in the facility’s general population.

“For weeks the state has ignored our warnings of life-threatening problems at the jail,” said Rajeev K. Goyle, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “The height of the summer is upon us — their failure to act quickly to improve air circulation and cool units could result in tragedy.”

Last summer’s court order established special heat emergency procedures requiring a medical screening for all women within hours of entering the WDC. A “heat emergency” is to be declared in the facility whenever the actual temperature within any housing area reaches or exceeds 90 degrees for longer than four hours. The WDC must also provide air-conditioned bed space for at least 200 women determined to be at-risk for heat-related illness. A woman classified as medically at-risk who cannot be housed in the cooler units must receive individual assessment by medical staff and a treatment plan must be developed to assure her safety.

Lawyers representing the women include Alexander of the ACLU National Prison Project, Goyle and Deborah Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland and Frank Dunbaugh of Annapolis.

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