Federal Judge Approves ACLU Settlement Forcing Sweeping Improvements In Conditions At Baltimore City Jail

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
April 6, 2010 12:00 am

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Detainee Medical And Mental Health Care Will Greatly Improve After History Of Serious Mistreatment

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BALTIMORE – A federal judge today gave final approval to a settlement agreement that paves the way for sweeping improvements to conditions at the Baltimore City Jail. The approval comes after the American Civil Liberties Union and the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center came to an agreement last year with Maryland state officials that will lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of medical and mental health care provided to detainees at the facility and effectively settles major portions of a longstanding class action lawsuit.

“Jail officials have a constitutional obligation to provide basic levels of medical and mental health care,” said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “This agreement will help ensure that officials at the Baltimore City Jail follow the law.”

A tentative settlement was reached in August, but because the case is a class action brought on behalf of all detainees at the jail, federal law required that the detainees be given notice of the proposed settlement and an opportunity to comment on it before it could be given judicial approval. Having considered those comments, U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz today said the settlement was “fair, reasonable and adequate” and gave it his approval.

“This is a major step forward,” said Elizabeth Alexander, the lead attorney in the case and former director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Implementing the settlement will promote the public health by protecting the health and safety of those who find themselves behind bars.”

The settlement agreement mandates that detainees receive responses to sick calls within 72 hours, jail officials provide ongoing treatment to detainees with chronic diseases, an on-site psychiatrist be available to detainees five days a week and detainees with disabilities be provided with necessary housing supplies.

Additionally, jail officials are now required to ensure that detainees continue to receive any necessary medications prescribed to them prior to their arrival at the jail and that those prescriptions are renewed without interruption. The agreement also requires jail officials to fix any broken plumbing in a timely manner so that public health within the jail is not threatened.

“The court’s approval of the settlement agreement is a significant step toward improving the safety conditions in the Baltimore City Jail,” said Wendy Hess, an attorney with the Public Justice Center. “The human rights of men, women and youth awaiting trial will now be protected.”

The ACLU, along with the public justice center, filed a motion is 2003 to reopen a consent decree that had been brokered in the case, Duvall v. O’Malley, which dates back more than three decades. At the time, statements from a medical expert and numerous current and former detainees revealed a pervasive lack of medical and mental health care, as well as dangerous and unsanitary living conditions in the jail. A district court judge agreed to reopen the case in 2004, and the ACLU and the Public Justice Center began settlement negotiations in 2007.

The jail has been riddled with problems for years resulting from the failure of jail officials to provide necessary medical treatment. Detainees with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes have died, a detainee with a history of cancer went three months without having a suspicious lump in her breast diagnosed and detainees have gone months without receiving needed medications upon entering the jail. A 2008 Department of Justice (DOJ) report found that less than half of requests for medical care were responded to in a timely manner and concluded that health care in the jail is compromised by poor administrative and nursing systems. The DOJ also cited routine delays of days or even weeks in access to prescribed medications as well as numerous examples of emergency room trips that could have been prevented had proper care been provided.

Approximately 40,000 people pass through the jail per year, and the jail’s average daily population is about 4,500.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/duvall-et-al-v-omalley-et-al-partial-settlement-agreement

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison

Additional information about the ACLU of Maryland is available online at: www.aclu-md.org

Additional information about the Public Justice Center is available online at: www.publicjustice.org

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