Lawsuit Claims Baltimore Jail’s Appalling Conditions May Explain Deaths of Seven Inmates

© Provided by Guardian News Poor conditions in the facility, like black mold shown here, may be to blame for seven deaths, the lawsuit says. Photograph: ACLU
© Provided by Guardian News Poor conditions in the facility, like black mold shown here, may be to blame for seven deaths, the lawsuit says. Photograph: ACLU

Appalling sanitation, vermin, dirt and mold combined with a lack of basic medical care in Baltimore’s only jail possibly caused at least seven deaths in the last two years and continues to put thousands of detainees, mostly African American, at risk of serious danger, a class action alleges.

Lawyers acting for the 2,500 people held by the State of Maryland in Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) say they have uncovered a shocking litany of problems with the jail that subjects detainees and prisoners to “serious harm, including death”. They describe the jail, one of the oldest custodial institutions in the country that was built in its current form before the civil war, as 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”.

A motion filed on behalf of the detainees with the US district court for the district of Maryland on Tuesday accuses the state officials who run the jail of violating the eighth amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. It calls for the federal courts to impose a binding order that would force the institution to bring both its physical infrastructure and medical care services up to basic humane standards.

Baltimore was the location of recent unrest over the death while under arrest by local police of African American 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Though the new legal challenge against BCDC is not connected to any of those events, and the timing of it is coincidental, its findings do point to a serious problem in the way that African Americans are treated in the next stage of their exposure to the criminal justice system after being arrested – their detention awaiting trial.

Some 90% of all those locked up at BCDC are awaiting trial. While African Americans make up 62% of the city’s population, they form about 80% of the BCDC population and a staggering 95% of all juveniles who are held there.

The most shocking allegations contained in the motion relate to allegedly preventable deaths. A footnote chronicles seven detainees whose deaths since 2013 may have been preventable, the motion says, amid evidence that they suffered from an absence of the most elementary medical treatment. In a further six deaths, medical treatment, or the lack of it, may have played some part, the action claims.

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Source: The Guardian | Ed Pilkington in New York

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